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Luo, Minmin
Principle Investigator, McGovern Institute for Brain Research
Professor, School of Life Sciences
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[Research Focus] My lab is focusing on two related neurobiology questions:
1. the encoding of olfactory signals in the mammalian brain;
2. the physiological mechanisms of some basic animal behaviors at the level of neural circuits. Mammals can detect and discriminate a huge number of odorant chemicals. Over the two decades, dramatic progresses have been achieved in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of odorant detection. However, it remains unclear how odorants are encoded by the olfactory bulb and the olfactory cortex at the systems level. Our laboratory studies how neurons in the olfactory bulb encode olfactory signals and then project to downstream stations, using approaches such as electrophysiology, optical imaging, and genetic engineering. Our recent work shows that in mammals, a specialized olfactory subsystem sensitively detects CO2 in the air. Our next step is to examine how the olfactory CO2 neurons project to the downstream centers and regulate animal behavior. We have also found that bilateral olfactory sensory maps are precisely linked at the level of the olfactory bulb. In the next few years, we will continue to study how the neural circuits in the olfactory bulb and the olfactory cortex process olfactory signals. We are also interested in studying how the processing in these brain areas is modulated by the behavioral contexts of an animal.
Some special odorants, such as the body odorants emanated by other conspecifics or predators, can be detected at especially low concentrations and effectively release specific behaviors, such as mating, aggression, or innate fears. A discrete neural pathway from the olfactory bulb to the hypothalamus via the medial amygdala detects these odorants and regulates the innate social behaviors. We are using approaches including electrophysiology, neural tract tracing, genetic engineering, and behavioral assay to study the representation of the olfactory signals in this pathway. We are testing the labeled-line hypothesis: whether some specialized receptor neurons and their directly connected central pathways respond selectively to subset of social signals and regulate specific behavior. We are also recording the intrinsic and synaptic properties of the neurons in this pathway from slice preparations to examine the physiological substrates for the representation of social signals.
Midbrain dopaminergic neurons are important for animals’ learning, motivation, movement, and sleep/awake cycles. The malfunction of these neurons is believed to be closely correlated to many devastating mental diseases, such as schizophrenia, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders, and Parkinson’s disease. Recent study from my lab reveals that some membrane receptors are selectively expressed in the neurons and effectively regulate the activity level of the midbrain dopaminergic neurons. We will further study the molecular and cellular mechanisms of these regulations and how they affect animal behavior. Our studies thus not only have the potentials of contributing to the basic understanding of sensory processing and some fundamental animal behaviors but also may facilitate clinical efforts toward the cure of some mental diseases.
[Education & Experience] 3/2009 – present Professor, School of Life Sciences, Tsinghua University, China
9/2005-present Assistant Investigator and Laboratory Head, National Institute of Biological Sciences, Beijing, China
08/2004 – 9/2005 Investigator and Laboratory Head, Institute of Neuroscience, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai, China
12/1999 – 07/2004 Postdoctoral Research Associate, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University (Advisor: Lawrence C. Katz)
2000 Ph.D. in Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania (Advisor: DJ Perkel)
1997 M.S. in Computer Science, University of Pennsylvania
1995 B.S. in Psychology, Peking University, China
[Selected Publications]

Research papers:    

1.Qin C, Luo M* (2009) Neurochemical Phenotypes of the Afferent and Efferent Projections of the Mouse Medial Habenula. Neuroscience, doi/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.03.085

2.Fan S, Luo M* (2009) The Organization of Feedback Projections in a Pathway Important for Processing Pheromonal Signals Neuroscience, doi/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.03.065

3.Sun L, Wan H, Hu J, Han J, Matsunami H, Luo M* (2009) Guanylyl Cyclase-D in the Olfactory CO2 Neurons is Activated by Bicarbonate. PNAS, 106:2041-2046.

4.Yan Z, Tan J, Qin C, Lu Y, Ding C, Luo M* (2008) Precise Circuitry Links Bilaterally Symmetric Olfactory Maps. Neuron 58:613–624. (Featured in a preview by Takeshi Imai and Hitoshi Sakano within the same issue of Neuron 58:456-467).

5.Bian X, Yanagawa Y, Chen WR, Luo M* (2008) Cortical-like Functional Organization of the Pheromone-processing Circuits in the Medial Amygdala. J Neurophysiol, 99:77-86.

6.Hu J, Zhong C, Ding C, Chi Q, Walz A, Mombaerts P, Matsunami H, Luo M* (2007) Detection of near-atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by an olfactory subsystem. Science, 317:953-957.

7.Grosmaitre X, Santarelli LC, Tan J, Luo M, Ma M (2007) Dual functions of mammalian olfactory sensory neurons as odor detectors and mechanical sensors. Nature Neurosci , 10: 348-354.

8.Luo, M*, Fee, MS, and Katz, LC (2003) Encoding pheromonal signals in the accessory olfactory bulb of behaving mice. Science 299:1196-1201 (full research article featured with cover and News and Views).

9.Luo, M and Perkel, DJ (2002) Intrinsic properties and synaptic input for neurons within an avian motor thalamic nucleus during the phase crucial for song learning. J Neurophysiol 88:1903-1914.

10.Luo, M* and Katz, LC (2001) Response correlation maps of neurons in the mammalian olfactory bulb. Neuron 32:1165-1179.

11.Luo, M, Ding, L, and Perkel, DJ (2001) An avian basal ganglia pathway essential forvocal learning nucleus in the zebra finch song system forms closed topographic loops. J Neurosci 21:6836-45.

12.Luo, M, and Perkel, DJ (1999) A GABAergic, strongly inhibitory projection to a thalamic nucleus in the zebra finch song system. J Neurosci. 19(15):6700-11.

13.Luo, M, and Perkel, DJ (1999) Long-range GABAergic projection in a circuit essential for vocal learning. J Comp Neurol 403: 68-84.


14.Luo M* (2008) The Necklace Olfactory System in Mammals. J Neurogenetics, 22:229-238.

15.Luo, M* and Katz LC (2004) Encoding Pheromones by the Mammalian Vomeronasal System. Curr Opinion Neurobiol 14:428-34.

16.Luo, M*. (2004) Got milk? A pheromonal message for newborn rabbits. Bioessays 26:6-9. (Invited review)

17.Perkel, DJ, Farries, MA, Luo, M, and Ding, L (2002) Electrophysiological analysis of a songbird basal ganglia circuit essential for vocal plasticity. Brain Res Bulletin 57:529-532 (Invited review).

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