Mission and Approach

Research in the Maier lab aims to understand how sensory processing mediates behavior in a natural context.

Our approach involves: 

  • Probing the brain with naturalistic multisensory stimuli
  • Monitoring and manipulating neural activity in multiple sensory systems simultaneously
  • Detailed measurement of behavioral variables as animals interact freely with their environment

Current work uses large-scale electrophysiology and optogenetics in behaving rats to investigate how interactions between the taste and smell systems drive flavor preference and food choice behavior.

Current Projects

Multisensory basis of flavor perception and food choice
Animals make decisions about food based on both taste and smell information:

  • Using behavioral experiments, we aim to elucidate the mechanisms by which animals combine taste and smell components of a food to form and express flavor preferences.
  • Using electrophysiological recordings and optogenetic manipulations, we probe the single-neuron computations, as well as the circuit- and systems-level interactions underlying taste-mell integration.
  • Measuring behavioral and neural responses across the life span, we track the development of multisensory interactions underlying flavor perception.

Behavioral and neural processing of ortho- and retro-nasal olfactory signals
In Collaboration with Meredith Blankenship and Donald Katz at Brandeis University
Odors are experienced differently depending on whether they originate from the external environment (ortho-nasal) or from inside the mouth during consumption (retro-nasal). Using electrophysiological recordings in behaving rats, we investigate the behavioral consequences and neural underpinnings of these two different modes of olfaction.

Development of sensory processing in taste and smell cortex during early life
Cortex does not possess an innate ability to process sensory information. Using electrophysiological recordings from taste and smell cortices of head-restrained, awake rats during the first 3 weeks of life, we investigate how sensory input to the developing brain shapes sensory maps to enable the emergence of adaptive behaviors.

View additional lab news and related journal articles