Contact Information

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Yali Zhang


Assistant Member, Monell Chemical Senses Center


Ph.D., Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB), The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Research Summary

In order to survive and flourish in the world, animals ranging from vertebrates to invertebrates need to employ sophisticated feeding behaviors to effectively locate and discriminate foods. As such, a fundamental question arises as to how animals sense the complex food environment to control feeding behaviors.

To tackle this question, we use model organisms such as the fruit fly to investigate how the chemical features of food, including sweetness, bitterness and saltiness, and the physical properties of food, such as food texture, impact on feeding behaviors. Specifically, using multiple approaches such as genetics, molecular and cellular biology, calcium imaging, and electrophysiology, we identity the receptors and the sensory cells that allow animals to detect the chemical and physical stimuli from the food environment. Moreover, we map the neural circuits in the brain that regulate taste sensation and food intake. In summary, given that the peripheral and central neural mechanisms regulating food preference is highly conserved between insects and mammals, we propose that the molecular insights obtained from our studies in flies, will inform our understanding of the molecular and neural underpinnings of human feeding behaviors.


Taste, molecular biology, electrophysiology, sensory neuroscience, genetics, taste transduction, taste coding

Recent Publications

Zhang, Y.V., Aikin, T.J., Li, Z., Montell, C. (2016) The basis of food texture sensation in Drosophila. Neuron, 91, 863-877.

Liman, E.R., Zhang, Y.V., Montell, C. (2014) Peripheral coding of taste: similarities in perception through dissimilar receptors. Neuron (review), 81, 984-1000.

Zhang, Y.V., Ni, J., Montell, C. (2013) The molecular basis for attractive salt-taste coding in Drosophila. Science, 340, 1334-1338.

Zhang, Y.V., Raghuwanshi, R.P., Shen, W.L., Montell, C. (2013) Food experience-induced taste desensitization modulated by the Drosophila TRPL channel. Nature Neuroscience, 16, 1468-1476.