PATRICIA M. DI LORENZO
Director, Undergraduate Psychobiology Program
Professor of Psychology
My research interests lie in the area of neural coding in sensory systems. Using the gustatory system as a model, my graduate students and I have pursued two separate but interrelated strategies. First, we have presented the system with an array of natural stimuli, i.e. examples of various taste qualities, and recorded the electrophysiological responses from taste-sensitive neurons in anesthetized rats. By the analysis of the spike trains evoked in small groups of simultaneously recorded neurons, we have been able to deduce some of the interrelationships among taste cells that produce their characteristic sensitivity patterns. As part of this effort, we have proposed a neural network model of taste processing in the brain stem. Although it is still evolving, our model demonstrates the possibility that some of the well studied features of taste-responsive neurons may actually be emergent properties of network processing, rather than intrinsic characteristics. As a second, complimentary strategy we have driven taste-related neurons with electrical pulses presented in a temporal sequence that mimics the temporal pattern of the neural response to a natural tastant. We then assess the evoked sensation in terms of its similarity to a natural taste. By systematically varying the temporal parameters of this artificial stimulus, i.e. the electrical stimulation, we hope to discover which aspects of the neural response evokes the various characteristics of a taste perception.
Contact Patricia M. Di Lorenzo, S4, 128 or G72.
Types of Research Experiences Available
Depending on the qualifications of the student, undergraduate research assistants may be involved in all aspects of experimental design, data collection analysis, and write-up. Both behavioral and electrophysiological experiments are ongoing at all times in the laboratory. Particularly well-qualified students may design their own projects. Weekly lab meetings include discussion of assigned readings from the scientific literature.
Introduction to Psychology, Physiological Psychology, a keen sense of responsibility and motivation and a good sense of humor.