Plexon Research Spotlight

Cecilia Bouaichi

Graduate Candidate, Vincis Lab, Florida State University


What type of neuroscience research do you do and what got you interested in this research?

Our lab primarily focuses on how taste information is encoded in multiple brain regions and how this information is used to drive our eating behaviors. We are interested in understanding how cortical and thalamic areas in mice encode sensory information and determining how the temperature of taste solutions is able to modulate taste processing in the gustatory cortex and taste-related behavior. To probe these research questions, we use novel and sophisticated experimental techniques, including behavioral training, anatomical and genetic targeting of specific neural populations, and recordings of neural activity in alert animals with multi-electrode bundles and optical imaging techniques.

What challenges did you encounter along the way, and how did you overcome these challenges?

When arriving at graduate school, my research background consisted of contractor work at a large pharmaceutical company, conducting the same assay day after day. After joining the Program in Neuroscience at Florida State University, I felt myself really challenged; rather than becoming overwhelmed and stressed looking forward, I took this as an opportunity to learn as much as I could and dive in head first. Within a year of joining the lab, I have honed surgical skills, for the implantation of electrode bundles and injection of viruses and tracers into specific taste-related brain areas. I have learned to record and sort individual neurons from an awake, behaving animal, and further, analyze the temporal and dynamic responses of these neurons in animals receiving a battery of taste stimuli. All of these skills were not acquired easily, especially with limited neuroscience background.

What new technique do you think will have the greatest impact on Neuroscience research and how do you plan to apply this to your research?

Electrophysiological data previously has shown that neurons in the gustatory cortex (GC) not only encode the chemosensory identity of tastants, but also palatability. However, these studies used tastants delivered via intraoral cannulas. In our recent work, we evaluated whether GC neurons encode hedonic value of tastants in an active licking mouse. Using an awake, behaving animal implanted with movable tetrode bundles has allowed us to conclude that the GC is one of the fundamental brain areas capable of integrating sensation and action pertaining to taste experiences.

Lab Website: Vincis Lab Website

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