The McGann Laboratory on the Neurobiology of Sensory Cognition

We study how our brains understand the sensory world around us. Fifty years ago a laboratory like ours might have simply focused on understanding how a particular sensory brain region responds to different kinds of sensory stimuli. However, decades of work have revealed that sensory brain regions actually use all sorts of previously learned information to anticipate and prioritize incoming sensory stimuli. The neural activity in sensory brain regions is thus determined not only by what sensory stimulus is present but also whether it was expected and whether it was important. We term this sensory cognition. We use the olfactory system (the sense of smell) of mice and human as our main area of study because powerful technologies allow us to directly observe the brain's neural representation of odors and how they change with experience. We also explore how dysfunctional sensory cognition might potentially be a component of disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Imaging Neural Representations of Odors

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Using genetically engineered mice, we can look through a window implanted in the skull and watch neurons in the brain's olfactory bulb light up in characteristic patterns as the animal smells different odors.

Neural Processing of Odor Signals

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Sensory input to the brain from the nose is strongly modulated by brain circuitry that takes into account the animal's sensory environment and the meaning or significance of each odor. We study how the brain uses learned information to guide olfactory processing and perception.



John P. McGann, PhD

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Lab Director

Associate Professor of Psychology

Marley Kass, M.S.

PhD Student
Rutgers Psychology

Michelle Rosenthal, M.S.

PhD Student
Rutgers Psychology




Our research has been generously funded by:

Departmental Affiliations

Professional Societies