Smelling the Cheese

Paul Greer is using the mouse olfactory system to explore how sensory input gets translated into action

By Bryan Goodchild and Jim Fessenden

UMass Medical School Communications

August 10, 2017

Paul L. Greer, PhD, assistant professor of molecular medicine, is investigating how animals take sensory input from their environment and translate those stimuli into appropriate actions.

“We want to understand how a mouse knows it should run away from a cat, but toward a piece of cheese,” said Dr. Greer.

To understand the neural circuitry for such “stimulus-driven” behaviors in animals, Greer studies the olfactory network of the mouse. Smell is the primary sense used by most animals (other than humans) to interact with their surroundings—sensing food, predators or mates—making it an ideal system for probing how neurons communicate with the outside world. Because these circuits are highly conserved—common across most vertebrates—Greer’s research could be used to help develop new treatments for a variety of neurological disorders. Understanding how these neural circuits system work could provide insight into conditions such as autism spectrum disorders, which often are marked by sensory issues, and Alzheimer's disease.

Greer recently joined UMMS from Harvard University, where he received his doctoral degree and was a postdoc in the lab of Sandeep Robert Datta, MD, PhD, at Harvard Medical School. 

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