Minghong Ma, Ph.D.

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Professor of Neuroscience
Department: Neuroscience

Contact information
110 Johnson Pavilion
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Office: (215) 746-2790
Fax: 215-573-9050
B.S. (Biophysics)
Peking University , 1988.
M.S. (Biophysics)
Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1991.
Ph.D. (Neuroscience)
Columbia University , 1997.
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Description of Research Expertise


We are interested in how the brain perceives and responds to sensory stimuli in health and disease. We employ the mouse as our model due to its experimentally accessible neural circuits and well-characterized behaviors. Rodents primarily use olfactory cues to guide their behaviors, e.g., locating food, communicating with conspecifics, and avoiding danger. Odor sensing starts with olfactory sensory neurons in the nose, which carry the information to the olfactory bulb and subsequently to several cortical and subcortical regions. In addition to detecting odors, olfactory sensory neurons also serve as mechanical sensors, thus the nose transmits both odor information and nasal breathing signal into the brain. The olfactory system is closely connected with other brain regions that are involved in cognition and emotion, which may underlie strong associations between smell deficits and neuropsychiatric disorders. Our current research focuses on: 1) network connections between the olfactory system and non-olfactory regions (e.g., the prefrontal cortex) and their functions; 2) mind-body interaction via reciprocal influence of respiration and behavioral/mental state; 3) role of sniffing in neural representation of sensory salience; 4) neural mechanisms underlying interbrain synchrony in socially engaged mice; and 5) olfactory function in diseased states.


ex vivo and in vivo electrophysiology, fiber photometry, neural circuit tracing, optogenetics, chemogenetics, mouse behavior, immunohistochemistry, machine learning

We welcome inquiries and applications from students and postdocs. Please contact minghong@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

Selected Publications

Zhang Y-F*, Wu J†, Wang Y†, Johnson NL†, Bhattarai JP†, Li G, Wang W, Guevara C, Shoenhard H, Fuccillo V, Wesson DW, Ma M*: Ventral striatal islands of Calleja neurons bidirectionally mediate depression-like behaviors in mice. Nature Communications, 14: 6887. Nature Communications 14: 6887, 2023. Notes: †equal contribution and *corresponding authors.

Schreck MR*, Zhuang L, Janke E, Moberly AH, Bhattarai JP, Gottfried JA, Wesson DW, Ma M*.: State-dependent olfactory processing in freely behaving mice. Cell Reports 38: 110450, 2022. Notes: *corresponding authors.

Zhang YF, Vargas Cifuentes L†, Wright KN†, Bhattarai JP†, Mohrhardt J†, Fleck D†, Janke E, Jiang C, Cranfill SL, Goldstein N, Schreck M, Moberly AH, Yu Y, Arenkiel BR, Betley JN, Luo W, Stegmaier J, Wesson DW*, Spehr M*, Fuccillo MV*, Ma M*.: Ventral striatal islands of Calleja neurons control grooming in mice. Nature Neuroscience 24: 1699-1710, 2021. Notes: †equal contribution and *corresponding authors.

Bhattarai JP*, Schreck M, Moberly AH, Luo W, Ma M* : Aversive learning increases release probability of olfactory sensory neurons. Current Biology 30: 31-41, 2020. Notes: *corresponding authors.

Moberly AH*, Schreck M, Bhattarai JP, Zweifel LS, Luo W, Ma M*: Olfactory inputs modulate respiration-related rhythmic activity in the prefrontal cortex and freezing behavior. Nature Communications 9: 1528, 2018. Notes: *corresponding authors.

Yu Y†*, Moberly AH†, Bhattarai JP, Duan C, Zheng Q, Li F, Huang H, Olson W, Luo W, Wen T, Yu H, Ma M*: The stem cell marker Lgr5 defines a subset of postmitotic neurons in the olfactory bulb. Journal of Neuroscience 37(39): 9403-9414, 2017. Notes: †equal contribution and *corresponding authors.

Connelly T†, Yu Y†, Grosmaitre X, Wang J, Santarelli LC, Savigner A, Qiao X, Wang Z, Storm DR, Ma M: G Protein-coupled odorant receptors underlie mechanosensitivity in mammalian olfactory sensory neurons. PNAS 112: 590-5, 2015. Notes: †equal contribution.

Yu Y†, de March CA†, Ni MJ, Adipietro KA, Golebiowski J*, Matsunami H*, Ma M* : Responsiveness of G protein-coupled odorant receptors is partially attributed to the activation mechanism. PNAS 112: 14966-14971, 2015. Notes: †equal contribution and *corresponding authors.

Challis RC, Tian H, Wang J, He J, Jiang J, Chen X, Yin W, Connelly T, Ma L, Yu CR, Pluznick JL, Storm DR, Huang L, Zhao K, Ma M: An olfactory cilia pattern in the mammalian nose ensures high sensitivity to odors. Current Biology 25: 2503-2512, 2015. Notes: Commented by Wall CM and Zhao H (2015) Sensory Biology: Novel Peripheral Organization for Better Smell. Curr Biol. 25:R833-6.

de March CA†, Yu Y†, Ni MJ, Adipietro KA, Matsunami H*, Ma M*, Golebiowski J*: Conserved residues control activation of mammalian G Protein-coupled odorant receptors. J Am Chem Soc 137: 8611-8616, 2015. Notes: †equal contribution and *corresponding authors.

Jiang Y†, Li YR†, Tian H, Ma M*, Matsunami H*: Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor M3 modulates odorant receptor activity via inhibition of β-Arrestin-2 recruitment. Nature Communications 6: 6448 (1-15), 2015. Notes: †equal contribution and *corresponding authors.

Lee AC, He J and Ma M: Olfactory Marker Protein Is Critical for Functional Maturation of Olfactory Sensory Neurons and Development of Mother Preference. Journal of Neuroscience 31: 2974–2982, 2011.

Tan J, Savigner A, Ma M and Luo M: Odor information processing by the olfactory bulb analyzed in gene-targeted mice. Neuron 65: 912-926, 2010.

Grosmaitre X, Santarelli LC, Tan J, Luo M and Ma M: Dual functions of mammalian olfactory sensory neurons as odor detectors and mechanical sensors. Nature Neuroscience 10: 348-354, 2007. Notes: Featured in Research Highlights in Nature (March 1, 2007), 446:5.

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Last updated: 02/14/2024
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