My central interest is in the evolution
of new neural structures and their role in behavior. My research focuses
on changes in the olfactory system over the course of vertebrate evolution,
and the origin and function of the accessory olfactory (vomeronasal) system
in tetrapods. The vomeronasal system has been suggested to have arisen
as an adaptation to terrestrial life and to function as a pheromone detector,
but recent data suggest that these views are simplistic and inaccurate.
Working mostly with axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum), a nonmetamorphosing
salamander species, I am pursuing three interrelated lines of research.
First, I am investigating chemosensory-guided behavior in axolotls. This
includes studies of chemical signalling in courtship and mating behavior,
as well as attempts to isolate the compounds involved. I am also interested
in examining the role of chemical senses in foraging behavior in axolotls.
Second, I am using electrophysiological techniques to examine the function
and odor response properties of olfactory subsystems, including the vomeronasal
system, with the goal of determining whether different portions of the
olfactory and vomeronasal systems carry different types of information
or function in different behavioral contexts. Third, I am examining the
developmental origin of the olfactory and vomeronasal organs and their
targets in the central nervous system, with a view to understanding the
developmental changes involved in the evolutionary origin of the vomeronasal
system. Students in the lab are exposed to a wide variety of concepts
and techniques from behavioral biology, neurophysiology, neuroanatomy,
and experimental embryology. I hope that by taking a broad, integrative
approach to these problems, we will gain a better understanding of how
new neural structures arise in evolution, and how they get incorporated
into an existing nervous system to mediate behavior.
Please feel free to contact me if you
have any questions about my research.
Click Here to see all Publications by Dr. Eisthen