Yun Zhang, Ph.D.
Associoate Professor of Biology
Northwest Science Building, Room 357.10
52 Oxford Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
We are interested in understanding how the structure and function of neural circuits regulate behavior, and how this process is modified by experience and environment. One way to address this question is to elucidate evolutionarily conserved features in the fundamental underlying mechanisms. For this purpose, I exploit Caenorhabditis elegans, because its nervous system is relatively simple and well-characterized and because it is accessible to genetic, molecular and imaging methods.
Our research has primarily focused on olfactory behavior and plasticity. In the past few years, we have characterized three types of underlying neural circuits. First, we have functionally mapped a neuronal network that encodes both the naive and learned olfactory preferences. Intriguingly, we have recently identified a new type of circuits, “topographic circuits”, which is organized by the subcellular localization of the synapses. We have also characterized a set of “invisible circuits”, which regulate olfactory behavior through ligand-receptor interactions. Our research has yielded new knowledge about the functional organization of neural circuits and how it regulates olfactory sensorimotor response.
I am also interested in understanding how behavior evolves. Behaviors evolve through adaptation to the environment, which is driven by the changes in the molecular and cellular underpinnings. We use ecological isolates of C. elegans that exhibit inheritable behavioral variances to dissect how the genomic architecture shapes behavior and its neural basis.
For a complete listing of publications click here.
Last Update: 10/30/2013