Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Bargmann, Cornelia I.
Location The Rockefeller University
Primary Field Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
Secondary Field Genetics
 Election Citation
Bargmann has used the worm C. elegans to carry out pioneering genetic studies of olfaction that have illuminated the logic underlying odor discrimination and behavioral plasticity. She has delineated novel signaling pathways for proper wiring, and for allowing equivalent sensory neurons to communicate with each other and specify their fates. Her research has also identified a gene that makes some worms much more sociable than others.
 Research Interests
My lab asks how an animal's genes and neural circuits allow it to generate appropriate behavioral responses to the environment. We study the compact nervous system of the nematode C. elegans using genetic, developmental, and behavioral approaches. C. elegans has a rich sense of smell, and innate preferences for certain odors. By studying a mutant that could not respond to the buttery odor diacetyl, we identified the receptor protein that detects this odor. Much of odor discrimination is specified by the interaction of specific receptors with their odorant ligands. Each odorant receptor is expressed in a few olfactory neurons. Activation of a particular olfactory neuron drives a stereotyped behavior, so that the animal knows which behavior to generate by determining which olfactory neuron has been activated. Each neuron has characteristic synaptic connections with other cells. We have identified cells and molecules that act as developmental guideposts for some neuronal connections. Genetic variation in natural populations contributes to the behavioral differences between individuals in a species. Natural C. elegans isolates can exhibit either solitary or social feeding behaviors. Remarkably, a single amino acid change in a neuronal neuropeptide receptor is responsible for much of the natural variation in this behavior.

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