Minghong Ma, Ph.D.

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Professor of Neuroscience
Department: Neuroscience
Graduate Group Affiliations

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


Olfaction and Respiration-entrained Brain Activity


Optogenetics, ex vivo and in vivo Electrophysiology, Neural circuit tracing, Mouse Behavior, Mouse Genetics, Optical Imaging, Immunohistochemistry, Molecular biology


Our laboratory is interested how the brain perceives the external world and responds appropriately using the mammalian olfactory system as a model.

The mammalian olfactory system relies on a large number (~1200 in rodents) of G-protein coupled odorant receptors (ORs) to detect and discriminate numerous odors in the environment. Each olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) in the nose manages to express only one OR type. By using patch clamp recordings in OR gene targeted mice, site-directed mutagenesis, heterologous expression, and molecular dynamics simulations, we are investigating structure-function relationships of ORs and odor response profiles of OSNs with defined ORs. We are also interested in how sensory experience modifies the organization and function of the olfactory system and thus affects the animal behavior.

Some OSNs serve dual functions as odor detectors and mechanical sensors, which leads to the hypothesis that the nose provides the respiration rhythm to the brain in addition to the olfactory information. Respiration is not only influenced by autonomic demands, but also by emotional states (fear, anxiety, anger, etc). Conversely, conscious control of breathing, usually in the form of rhythmic nasal breathing, can affect physiology, mood, and cognition. By combining optogenetics, ex vivo and in vivo electrophysiological recordings, and neural circuit tracing, we are investigating the source and functional significance of respiration-entrained brain activity.

Selected Publications

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. Nat Commun 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. J Neurosci 37(39): 9403-9414, 2017. Notes: †equal contribution and *corresponding authors.

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.

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. Proc Natl Acad Sci 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. Curr Biol 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.

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. Proc Natl Acad Sci 112: 590-5, 2015. Notes: †equal contribution.

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 Commun 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. J Neurosci 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, Fuss SH, Lee AC, Adipietro KA, Matsunami H, Mombaerts P and Ma M: SR1, a mouse odorant receptor with an unusually broad response profile. J Neurosci 29: 14545-14552, 2009.

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 Neurosci 10: 348-354, 2007. Notes: Featured in Research Highlights in Nature (March 1, 2007), 446:5.

Grosmaitre X, Vassalli A, Mombaerts P, Shepherd GM and Ma M: Odorant responses of olfactory sensory neurons expressing the odorant receptor MOR23: a patch clamp analysis in gene-targeted mice. Proc Natl Acad Sci 103: 1970-1975, 2006. Notes: Featured in “In This Issue” by PNAS.

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Last updated: 12/20/2018
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