This week we profile a recent publication in Current Biology from the lab of Dr. Michael Gordon (pictured, third from left) at UBC with first author Dr. Molly Stanley (far left).
Can you provide a brief overview of your lab’s current research focus?
My lab uses the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, to study the neural circuits underlying taste processing and feeding control. We are interested in how chemicals are detected and encoded by taste sensory neurons, how the information from those neurons is processed in the brain, how satiety influences feeding circuits, and how taste responses change following experience. We hope to uncover fundamental principles of how sensorimotor circuits translate environmental inputs to appropriate action.
What is the significance of the findings in this publication?
Although it’s been hinted at in the literature, little is known about how the temporal features of taste information may impact taste processing. We found that lactic acid attracts flies by exciting their sweet taste neurons both when the stimulus is applied (onset) and also when the stimulus is removed. Interestingly, the onset and removal responses impact distinct aspects of feeding behaviour and are mediated by two entirely distinct families of receptors. This is the first known example of these two receptor types working together in a cell type to mediate a sensory response.
What are the next steps for this research?
One important outstanding question is how the removal response to lactic acid is represented in the fly brain and drives feeding behaviour. We plan on using calcium imaging to study the activity of brain circuits in response to lactic acid stimulation, and light-triggered activation of neurons (optogenetics) to stimulate those circuits in ways that mimic the timing of onset/removal responses and test how each impacts feeding. We’re also very interested in whether similar mechanisms for lactic acid detection are working in mosquitoes, which use the lactic acid in sweat as an attractant towards humans.