Charles S. Zuker

Columbia University

Primary Section: 24, Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
Secondary Section: 22, Cellular and Developmental Biology
Membership Type: Member (elected 2004)

Research Interests

My research focuses on elucidating mechanisms of signal transduction and information coding in sensory systems. Initially, I focused on phototransduction and photoreceptor cell function in Drosophila melanogaster. Those studies produced a reasonably comprehensive dissection of a complex signaling pathway, and defined most of the components involved in the phototransduction cascade. More recently, my laboratory began a genetic dissection of mechanosensory transduction in flies as a strategy to characterize the molecular machinery responsible for our senses of hearing, balance and propioception. This work resulted in the discovery of one of the principal eukaryotic mechanically gated ion channels, and validated TRP channels as transduction channels for the mechanical senses. Beginning in 1998, we started to work on the biology of mammalian taste. Studies in collaboration with Nick Ryba at the NIH led to the discovery of the receptors for sweet, bitter and umami taste. Our labs then demonstrated that the different taste modalities are encoded independently of each other, and proved that taste receptor cells are "hardwired" to mediate dedicated behavioral outputs: "sweet-cells" mediate attraction, while "bitter-cells" mediate aversion. Thus, animals engineered to express a bitter taste receptor in sweet-cells display attraction to the bitter tastant. Indeed, expression of a novel receptor for a normally tasteless compound in either sweet- or bitter-cells produces mice with could be attracted or aversed to the compound, depending on the taste cell type.

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