STEM Speaker Series: Neural Mechanisms for Taste Learning with Dr. Arianna Maffei, Professor, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior

Date: 10/19/2021

Time: 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Special Collections Seminar Room



What happens in the brain when we experience the world or learn something new? The goal of the research in my lab is to unveil how experience and learning modify connectivity and excitability of neuronal circuits, and to relate neuronal and circuit changes to behavior.

During this talk, I will focus on our recent work regarding learning in the gustatory cortex. Taste preferences established early in life appear to influence food choices in adulthood. However, how taste preferences are established and what are the neural underpinnings for this process has not been investigated. Furthermore, taste can be good and pleasant, or bad and aversive. The sensory and affective component of taste can be separated by learning. For example, a pleasurable taste can become aversive if it is associated with malaise, effectively splitting the sensory and hedonic component of taste perception.

As taste guides feeding behaviors in all mammalian species, many of the mechanisms regulating the taste system are shared across species. The gustatory cortex is involved in the detection and encoding of both sensory and emotional (hedonic) aspects of taste. However, how this information is integrated at the level of local circuits and synapses is currently unknown. I will present experimental evidence for the presence a critical period for the development of taste preferences and I will discuss the circuit underpinning for the association of the identity of a taste with its hedonic value (whether a taste is pleasant or aversive). I will then show how plasticity at amygdalocortical synapses can modify the hedonic value of a taste by changing it from pleasurable to aversive. The results of this work have important implications for our understanding of taste perception and taste guided behaviors. More broadly, they also inform us about association of stimuli with their pleasant or aversive value modulates our perception of sensory stimuli.


Arianna Maffei graduated in Biology from the University of Pavia (Italy) in 1997 and received a Ph.D. in Physiology from the University of Pavia in 2001. She was a postdoctoral scholar at Brandeis University from 2002 to 2008. In 2008, she joined the faculty of the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior at Stony Brook and became Professor in 2020. She directs the laboratory for Neural Circuits and Plasticity and since 2020 she is the director of the Graduate Program in Neuroscience. She is Chief editor for Frontiers in Cellular Neurophysiology, an associate editor for The Journal of Neuroscience and eNeuro, and is a member of the editorial board of iScience. She is a member of the Society for Neuroscience and the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS).

The event will also be livestreamed. Please view the event using this link.

If you have a disability and are requesting accommodations in order to fully participate in this event, please email or call 631-632-7100.


This event is fully booked.

Clara Tran

Clara Tran

Head, Science and Engineering at Stony Brook University Libraries
Clara is the liaison to the Department of Chemistry, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and the Women in Science and Engineering program.
Clara Tran
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