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Donggen Luo

Donggen Luo


Email: donggenluo(at)yahoo(dot)com;


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Animals detect physical/chemical cues in the surroundings, and react accordingly for survival and reproduction. The LUO laboratory investigates how the animal’s sensory systems convert these cues into neuronal signals and transmit them to the brain, and how the brain then makes sense of these signals.

A prime feature of sensory detection by an animal is its extraordinary sensitivity, which allows, under optimal conditions, the detection of a single photon or a single chemical molecule. One beautiful example is that a male moth can detect a tiny amount of sex chemicals (pheromones), released by its mating partner miles away. Equally amazing is the wide dynamic range in which the sensory systems are able to function. For example, the human visual system is able to detect a single photon, while still enabling us to read under bright sunlight (where billions of photons bombard the eyes constantly). The LUO lab is interested in: (1) How sensory neurons transduce physical/chemical stimuli (photons, chemicals, etc.) into electrical signals; (2) At threshold, how the brain generates sensation by distinguishing faint signals from biological noise, exemplified by visual perception initiated by single photons; (3) How sensory noise in the form of spontaneous activity interferes with perception; and (4) How the brain exerts proper gain control in order to avoid response saturation and to maintain its performance under drastic changes in sensory inputs.

Throughout evolution, sensory circuits and modalities are, by and large, conserved across species. Among model systems, we utilize a genetically-malleable species, Drosophila, wherein we can label and manipulate specific neurons, to understand sensory perception by studying its cellular, circuitry and behavioral mechanisms. As such, we aim to understand sensory processing at all levels: from molecules to behavioral responses. The genetic approach is accompanied by a state-of-the-art integrated investigation involving sensitive behavioral assays, in vivo two-photon-based calcium imaging, and patch-clamp recordings (from brain neurons of a behaving fly, and from its peripheral sensory neurons).


Selected Publications:

1.Luo DG#, Yue WWS, Ala-Laurila P and Yau KW# (2011) Activation of visual pigments by light and heat. Science 332, 1037-1312. (# Co-corresponding Authors)
2.Luo DG, Xue T and Yau KW (2008) How vision begins: an odyssey. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 105, 9855-9862 (Review).
3.Fu Y*, Kefalov VJ*, Luo DG*, Xue T* and Yau KW (2008) Quantal noise from human red cone pigment. Nature Neurosci. 11, 565-571. (* Equal Contributions).
4.Su CY, Luo DG, Terakita A, Shichida Y, Liao HW, Kazmi MA, Sakmar TP and Yau KW (2006) Parietal-eye phototransduction components and their potential evolutionary implications. Science 311, 11617-11621.
5.Luo DG and Yau KW (2005) Rod sensitivity of neonatal mouse and rat. J. Gen. Physiol. 126, 263-269.
6.Huttl S, Michalakis S, Seeliger M, Luo DG, Acar N, Geiger H, Hudl K, Mader R, Haverkamp S, Moser M, Pfeifer A, Gerstner A, Yau KW and Biel M (2005) Impaired channel targeting and retinal degeneration in mice lacking the cyclic nucleotide-gated channel subunit CNGB1. J. Neurosci. 25, 130-138.
7.Luo DG and Yang XL (2002) Suppression by zinc of transient OFF responses of carp amacrine cells to red light is mediated by GABAA receptors. Brain Res. 958, 222-226.


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