Mission and Approach

The Maier Lab at Wake Forest University School of Medicine uses flavor perception in rats as a model system to gain fundamental insight into how the brain enables adaptive behavior. In particular, we study the neural dynamics underlying multisensory integration, decision making and the development of cortical computation. 

Our work includes a range of techniques, including sophisticated behavioral analysis, multi-electrode recordings and optogenetics in freely moving rats at different stages of development.

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.

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. 

Development of flavor perception in kids
Flavor is a major determinant of food choice, and thus directly linked to health. Tracking the development of taste and smell involvement in flavor perception in kids ages 2-6, we aim to identify the sensory mechanisms that contribute to food attitudes that have a potential long-lasting negative effect on heath (e.g., pickiness).

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.

View additional lab news and related journal articles