Sandeep Robert Datta M.D., Ph.D.


Assistant Professor of Neurobiology

Harvard Medical School
Department of Neurobiology
Warren Alpert Building, Room 336
220 Longwood Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Tel: 617-432-7890
Fax: 617-734-7557
Visit my lab page here.

The goal of our research is to address a core problem in neurobiology -- how is the brain wired to extract information from the environment and convert that information into action? Our laboratory seeks to answer this question by studying the mammalian olfactory system, which affords most animals the ability to detect and appropriately respond to crucial environmental cues. The central hypothesis of our laboratory is that the neural circuits that trigger fixed action pattern behaviors in response to ethologically-relevant odors (such as those from food, predators and mates) are both anatomically and genetically stereotyped; we leverage the invariance of this specific type of neural circuit to understand how odor inputs are coupled to behavioral output centers in higher brain, which in turn will reveal principles used by genes to specify behaviors.

To address these questions we take advantage of an interdisciplinary toolkit that includes both well-established techniques -- such as mouse genetics and behavioral analysis -- and emerging approaches -- such as two-photon laser scanning microscopy and optogenetics. These tools allow us to identify specific purified odorants that drive genetically-programmed behaviors, to define receptors for these odorants, and to characterize the functional architecture of the neural circuits that translates the activation of a specific receptor into a particular behavioral response. Because the hardwired olfactory circuits that underlie odor-driven innate behavior do not exist in isolation but as part of a complex neural mechanism also capable of associative learning and top-down modulation, we also plan to explore how the specific wiring we characterize is impinged upon by neural mechanisms that reflect experience and internal state. Finally, innate odor-driven behaviors (like predator avoidance) have been used to model various neuropathologies, including the specific phobias and panic disorder. Identifying and characterizing the circuitry that triggers fear-related behaviors will lead to insight into these serious diseases, as well as other disorders related to behavioral valence and motivation.

For a complete listing of publications click here.

Last Update: 11/7/2013