Mark Stopfer

National Institute of Health

“Neural Codes for the sense of Taste”

12:00 pm, Monday 30 October 2017

Location: Oxford Martin School, Old Indian Institute, 34 Broad Street, Oxford


Four of the five major sensory systems (vision, olfaction, somatosensation, and audition) are thought to use different but partially overlapping sets of neurons to form unique representations of vast numbers of stimuli. Gustation is considered an exception, by representing only small numbers of basic taste categories. Using new methods for delivering tastant chemicals and making electrophysiological recordings from the gustatory system of the moth Manduca sexta, we found that chemical-specific information is initially encoded in the population of gustatory receptor neurons as broadly distributed spatiotemporal patterns of activity, dramatically integrated and temporally transformed as it propagates to monosynaptically connected second-order neurons, and observed in tastant-specific behavior. Our results suggest that the gustatory system, rather than constructing basic taste categories, uses a spatiotemporal population code to generate unique neural representations of individual tastant chemicals.


Mark Stopfer received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University, where, with Tom Carew, he applied behavioral and electrophysiological techniques to study mechanisms underlying simple forms of learning. He then joined Gilles Laurent’s laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, where he examined the information processing properties that emerge within ensembles of neurons, focusing particularly upon oscillatory and synchronous neural activity. Dr. Stopfer came to NIH in 2002. His laboratory studies neural ensemble mechanisms underlying sensory coding in relatively simple animals.