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Travers Lab Research


Gustatory Processing in the Brainstem
The nucleus of the solitary tract (“NST”) is the first central relay for a crucial class of sensory information; namely signals arising from the internal organs. The mouth is the most rostral part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Consequently, sensory information from the mouth, notably taste information, is first processed in NST. We are exploring are how the spatial and chemical components of taste information map onto this nucleus (i.e., is there orotopy or chemotopy?), and how signals are transformed by processing. Other studies are elucidating the interactions of gustatory and GI signals and the circuits & chemical messengers by which taste signals ultimately impact higher-level brain regions involved in eating, learning, and sensory analysis.


Neural Basis of Taste Elicited Ingestion and Rejection
The study of taste offers the opportunity to examine fundamental brain circuitry that determines whether to ingest or reject a particular food. Chronic neurophysiology experiments suggest that this circuitry consists of multifunctional networks of brainstem interneurons that organize and coordinate the several oromotor nuclei responsible for movement of the jaws and tongue. Motor switching between ingestion and rejection as a result of orosensory input may have a neurochemical substrate. We are thus currently exploring the neurochemistry of this brainstem circuitry with chronic microinfusion studies in combination with chronic electromyography. Other experiments are looking at the microcircuitry of these control circuits in double-label neuroanatomical studies that combine visualizing the neurotransmitter phenotype of interneurons labeled with conventional retrograde markers or transynaptically with viral vectors.