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Yu Lab

We seek to uncover how neurons in the brain are associated with sensation and behavior, primarily in how we respond to odors and pheromones.

Research Summary

How does the brain associate the sense of smell with behavior?

Research Areas

Neuroscience, Development and Regeneration, Systems Biology



The Yu Lab investigates the complex connections between neurons that link sensation to behavior. In particular, the lab studies the mouse olfactory system, which detects odors, and the related vomeronasal system, which detects pheromones. Uncovering the neuronal mechanisms can advance scientific understanding of the development of the nervous system and neurological diseases.

The Yu Lab established a mouse line using genetic tools to detect calcium signals in the nervous system. This development allowed researchers to record signals for hundreds of cells simultaneously. Using this technique, Yu reported how vastly different sets of neurons respond to male or female pheromones. The lab discovered a brief “critical period” in the mouse olfactory system to fix neuronal wiring problems — a window that lasts until about a week after mice are born. They have also identified two classes of pheromone receptors crucial for the mating process in mice.

The team is investigating how developmental and aging processes affect the sense of smell, as the inability to smell is often the earliest sign of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Additional research focuses on physiological and theoretical studies of how neuronal information is processed by the brain.

Principal Investigator

Ron Yu


Stowers Institute for Medical Research

Portrait of Ron Yu

Get to know the lab


"The brain has a way of synthesizing information and relating it to our memory. Our experience changes how we perceive things. We’re having a lot of fun figuring out how.”

Our Team

Visit the Lab

Featured Publications

Robust and sensitive in situ RNA detection method using Yn-situ

Wu Y, Xu W, Yu Z, Wang Y, Yu CR. Cell Rep Methods. 2022;2:100201. doi: 100210.101016/j.crmeth.102022.100201.

Maximal Dependence Capturing as a Principle of Sensory Processing

Raj R, Dahlen D, Duyck K, Yu CR. Front Comput Neurosci. 2022;16:857653.

Acquisition of innate odor preference depends on spontaneous and experiential activities during critical period

Qiu Q, Wu Y, Ma L, Xu W, Hills MJ, Ramalingam V, Yu CR. eLife. 2021;10:e60546. doi: 10.7554/eLife.60546.

Encoding innately recognized odors via a generalized population code

Qiu Q, Wu Y, Ma L, Yu CR. Curr Biol. 2021;31:1813-1825 e1814.

A Population of Navigator Neurons is Essential for Olfactory Map Formation during Critical Period

Wu Y, Ma L, Duyck K, Long C, Moran A, Scheerer H, Blanck J, Peak A, Box A, Perera A, Yu CR. Neuron. 2018;100. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.09.051.

Integrated action of pheromone signals in promoting courtship behavior in male mice.

Haga-Yamanaka S, Ma L, He J, Qiu Q, Lavis LD, Looger LL, Yu CR. Elife (Cambridge). 2014;3:e03025. doi: 10.7554/eLife.03025.

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