Yali V. Zhang, Ph.D.

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Graduate Group Affiliations

Contact information
3500 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Office: 267-519-4945
Ph.D. (Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB))
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 2013.
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Description of Research Expertise

Research Interests
Exploring the molecular, cellular and neural mechanisms underlying food preference and intake.

Taste transduction and perception, Feeding preference, Taste receptors, Ion channels.

Research Details
To survive and reproduce, animals ranging from the smallest insect to the biggest mammal have developed sophisticated feeding behaviors to locate, select, and discriminate between different foods effectively. Animals choose foods that are nutrient-rich while avoiding potentially harmful options. This raises a fundamental question: faced with stimuli that are highly varied and even sometimes contradictory, how do animals make sense of the complex food environment to control feeding behaviors?

To tackle this question, we use model organisms such as the fruit fly to investigate how the chemical features (sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, etc.) and the physical properties (texture, temperature, etc.) of food affect feeding behaviors. We take a multidisciplinary approach that combines techniques such as genetics, molecular and cellular biology, calcium imaging, and electrophysiology to decipher the receptors and the sensory cells that allow flies to sense features of potential foods. Moreover, we map the neural circuits in the brain that process these taste sensations and produce a feeding decision. Our ultimate goal is to decipher the molecular, cellular, and neural mechanisms underlying food perception and intake.

Given the similarity between mammals and flies in the fundamental principles governing food preference, the insights gleaned from our work on the fly can serve as a roadmap to guide our understanding of human food preference. Additionally, understanding the regulation of food preference can give us valuable insights into nutritional issues such as salt overconsumption.

Selected Publications

Zhang, Y. V. Aikin, T. J. Li, Z. Montell, C.: The Basis of Food Texture Sensation in Drosophila. Neuron 91(4): 863-877, August 2016.

Liman, E. R. Zhang, Y. V. Montell, C.: Peripheral coding of taste. Neuron 81(5): 984-1000, March 2014.

Zhang, Y. V. Raghuwanshi, R. P. Shen, W. L. Montell, C.: Food experience-induced taste desensitization modulated by the Drosophila TRPL channel. Nature Neuroscience 16(10): 1468-76, October 2013.

Zhang, Y. V. Ni, J. Montell, C.: The molecular basis for attractive salt-taste coding in Drosophila. Science 340(6138), June 2013.

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Last updated: 12/18/2018
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