It has long been established that when an animal is given choice between a caloric sugar (sucrose) and a non-caloric sweetener (sucralose) that the animal will prefer sucrose over sucralose. Furthermore, this preference is independent of the sweet taste in the mouth. I study a special type of sensory cell, neuropod cells, in the gut surface. These neuropod cells communicate directly and rapidly with the brain in order to communicate what has been eaten by the animal. My team recently discovered that neuropod cells of the small intestine differentially sense sucrose and sucralose. And further showed that this distinction drives the animal to consume sucrose over sucralose.
Maya is a sensory neurobiologist. In 2015, she was awarded a PhD from Yale University in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. At Yale, Maya studied the how individual neurons of the vagus nerve respond to inflammation. Though the vagus has been of interest for centuries, only in recent years have the tools emerged to study single cells. Maya was one of the first trainees to use transcriptomics to study specific populations vagal neurons. These experiences were a platform for Maya to uncover a novel sensory neural circuit during her postdoc. After completing her Ph.D., Maya joined the laboratory of Dr. Diego Bohorquez at Duke University. She focused her expertise on uncovering how the gut communicates sensory signals from nutrients to the brain. In 2018, Maya was the leading author on an article in Science showing the neural basis of a new sense – a gut sense. This work has opened a new field of exploration in sensory neurobiology. One to explore how nutrients affect emotions and behavior through dedicated neural circuits. Maya’s research seeks to uncover the secrets of how the gut and brain talk in real time.