John R Carlson

Eugene Higgins Prof of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology

Research Interests

Drosophila, olfaction, taste, Anopheles, mosquito

Research Summary

Olfaction mediates the attraction of insects to humans and thus underlies the transmission of disease to hundreds of millions of people each year. Olfaction offers a wealth of biological problems. How does an odor or a pheromone activate a receptor, a cell, and a circuit so as to elicit an attractive response? Drosophilahas a highly sophisticated olfactory system, which we study with molecular, genetic, physiological and behavioral approaches. We used a computational algorithm to discover a family of 60 Odor receptor (Or) genes. We have systematically identified the ligand specificities of the odor receptors by expressing each in an in vivo expression system. This approach also identified odor receptors of the malaria mosquito Anopheles that respond to components of human sweat. A major problem is how the responses of the odor receptor repertoire are translated into a behavioral response. We have also identified a family of 60 Grgenes that encode taste receptors. We have recently found that another, largely unexplored gene family may encode a different class of taste receptors. Understanding of the mechanisms of insect chemoperception may lead to new strategies for controlling insect-borne disease.

Selected Publications

  • Koh, T.-W., He, Z., Gorur-Shandilya, S., Menuz, K., Larter, N., Stewart, S., and Carlson, J. (2014) The Drosophila IR20a clade of ionotropic receptors are candidate taste and pheromone receptors, Neuron 83, 850-865.
  • Su, C.-Y., Menuz, K., Reisert, J. and Carlson, J. (2012) Non-synaptic inhibition between grouped neurons in an olfactory circuit, Nature 492, 66-71.
  • Carlson, J. and Carey, A. (2011) Scent of a Human, Scientific American 305, 76-79.
  • Weiss, L., Dahanukar, A., Kwon, J.Y., Banerjee, D. and Carlson, J. (2011). The molecular and cellular basis of bitter taste in Drosophila, Neuron 69, 258-272
  • Carey, A., Wang, G., Su, C.-Y., Zwiebel, L., and J. Carlson (2010). Odor reception in the malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae, Nature 464, 66-71.
  • Kreher, S., Kim, J., and Carlson, J. (2008) Translation of sensory input into behavioral output via an olfactory system, Neuron 59, 110-124.
  • Ray, A., Van der Goes van Naters, W., Shiraiwa, T., and Carlson, J. (2007). Mechanisms of odor receptor gene choice in Drosophila. Neuron 53:353-369.
  • Dahanukar, A., Lei, Y., Kwon, J, and Carlson, J. (2007) Two Gr genes underlie sugar reception in Drosophila, Neuron 56, 503-516.
  • Hallem, E. and Carlson, J.R. (2006). Odor coding by a receptor repertoire. Cell 125:143-160.
  • Hallem, E., Ho, M., and Carlson, J. (2004) The molecular basis of odor coding in the Drosophila antenna, Cell 117, 965-980.


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