Daniel O'Connor

Daniel O'Connor

Associate Professor
Primary Appointment: 
Neuroscience Graduate Program
Brain Science Institute
Secondary Appointment: 
Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduate Program

855 N. Wolfe Street
288 Rangos Building
Baltimore, MD  21205

Research topic: 

Neural Circuits for Touch Perception

How do brain dynamics give rise to our sensory experience of the world? We work to answer this question by taking advantage of the fact that key architectural features of the mammalian brain are similar across species. This allows us to leverage the power of mouse genetics to help monitor and manipulate genetically and functionally defined brain circuits during perception. We train mice to perform simple perceptual tasks. By using quantitative behavior, optogenetic and chemical-genetic gain- and loss-of-function perturbations, in vivo two-photon imaging, and electrophysiology, we assemble a description of the relationship between neural circuit function and perception. We work in the mouse tactile system to capitalize on an accessible mammalian circuit with a precise mapping between the sensory periphery and multiple brain areas.

We have a long-standing interest in the dynamic gain control and routing, or gating, of sensory information. A striking aspect of perception is that it is limited in bandwidth. Let’s say you are following a talk show on your car radio until you realize you are about to miss your exit, among heavy highway traffic. After you manage to exit, you realize you have no idea what happened on the radio for the last half minute. Your auditory mechanoreceptors did not stop transducing sound into electrical activity. Somehow this perceptual gap arose because you shifted your attention from the radio to driving. Sensory-evoked action potentials must be selected according to their relevance to behavioral goals; not all can drive perception and behavior at once. However, the circuit and cellular mechanisms that select and route action potentials to ultimately drive perception and adaptive behavior remain mysterious. A current focus of the lab is to address this problem using a simple model: gain control of the translaminar flow of excitation through the cortical column. In particular, we are examining how a dominant thalamorecipient neuron type in early sensory cortex---the layer 4 stellate cell---is able to drive output projection neurons in layers 2/3 and 5, as a function of behavioral state and sensory expectation. These and related experiments will reveal the circuit and cellular mechanisms by which behavioral goals (such as understanding the radio show or navigating through traffic) regulate the propagation of action potentials along the causal chain from sensory transduction to behavior.

By unraveling circuits for touch perception in the mouse, we expect to gain key insights into principles of mammalian brain function, and to provide a framework to understand how circuit dysfunction ultimately causes mental and behavioral aspects of neuropsychiatric illness.

Selected Publications: 

Minamisawa G, Kwon SE, Chevée M, Brown SP and O’Connor DH. A non-canonical feedback circuit for rapid interactions between somatosensory cortices. Cell Reports. In press.

Finkel EA and O’Connor DH. Learning Recruits Higher Cortical Areas into Rapid Sensorimotor Streams. Neuron. 2018 Jan 3;97(1):1-2.

Kwon SE*, Tsytsarev V*, Erzurumlu RS and O’Connor DH. Organization of orientation-specific whisker deflection responses in layer 2/3 of mouse somatosensory cortex. Neuroscience. 2017 Aug 4; S0306-4522(17)30553-5. *, equal contributions.

Severson KS*, Xu D*, Bai L, Ginty DD and O’Connor DH. Active touch and self-motion coding by Merkel cell-associated primary afferents. Neuron. 2017; 94(3):666-676. *, equal contributions.

Severson KS and O’Connor DH. Active Sensing: The Rat’s Nose Dances in Step with Whiskers, Head, and Breath. Current Biology. 2017 Mar 6;27(5):R183-R185.

Kwon SE, Yang H, Minamisawa G and O’Connor DH. Sensory and decision-related activity propagate in a cortical feedback loop during touch perception. Nature Neuroscience. 2016; 19(9):1243-1249.

Yang H*, Kwon SE*, Severson KS and O’Connor DH. Origins of choice-related activity in mouse somatosensory cortex. Nature Neuroscience. 2016; 19(1):127-134. *, equal contributions.

Hires SA, Gutnisky D, Yu J, O’Connor DH and Svoboda K. Low-noise encoding of active touch by layer 4 in the somatosensory cortex. eLife. 2015; 4:e06619.

Yang H, O’Connor DH. Cortical adaptation and tactile perception. Nature Neuroscience. 2014 Oct 28;17(11):1434-1436.

Kuhlman SJ*, O’Connor DH*, Fox K and Svoboda K. Structural plasticity within the barrel cortex during initial phases of whisker-dependent learning. Journal of Neuroscience. 2014; 34(17):6078-6083. *, equal contributions.

Guo ZV, Hires SA, Li N, O’Connor DH, Komiyama T, Ophir E, Huber D, Bonardi C, Morandell K, Gutnisky D, Peron S, Xu N-L, Cox J and Svoboda K. Procedures for behavioral experiments in head-fixed mice. PLoS ONE. 2014; 9(2):e88678.

O’Connor DH*, Hires SA*, Guo ZV, Li N, Yu J, Sun Q-Q, Huber D and Svoboda K. Neural coding during active somatosensation revealed using illusory touch. Nature Neuroscience. 2013; 16(7):958-965. *, equal contributions.

Pammer LP*, O’Connor DH*, Hires AS, Clack NG, Huber D, Myers EW and Svoboda K. The mechanical variables underlying vibrissa-based object localization. Journal of Neuroscience. 2013; 33(16):6726-6741. *, equal contributions.

Xu N-L, Harnett MT, Williams SR, Huber D, O’Connor DH, Svoboda K and Magee JC. Nonlinear dendritic integration of sensory and motor input during an active sensing task. Nature. 2012; 492(7428):247-251.

Petreanu L, Gutnisky DA, Huber D, Xu N-L, O’Connor DH, Tian L, Looger LL and Svoboda K. Activity in motor-sensory projections reveals distributed coding in somatosensation. Nature. 2012; 489(7415):299-303.

Clack NG, O’Connor DH, Huber D, Petreanu L, Hires SA, Peron S, Svoboda K and Myers EW. Automated tracking of whiskers in videos of head fixed mice. PLoS Computational Biology. 2012; 8(7):e1002591.

Huber D, Gutnisky DA, Peron S, O’Connor DH, Wiegert JS, Tian L, Oertner TG, Looger LL and Svoboda K. Multiple dynamic representations in the motor cortex during sensorimotor learning. Nature. 2012; 484(7395):473-478.

Civillico EF, Shoham S, O’Connor DH, Sarkisov DV and Wang SS-H. Acousto-optical deflector-based patterned ultraviolet uncaging of neurotransmitter for the study of neuronal integration. In, Imaging in Neuroscience: A Laboratory Manual. 2011.

O’Connor DH, Peron SP, Huber D and Svoboda K. Neural activity in barrel cortex underlying vibrissa-based object localization in mice. Neuron. 2010; 67(6):1048-1061.

Komiyama T, Sato TR, O’Connor DH, Zhang Y-X, Huber D, Hooks BM, Gabitto M and Svoboda K. Learning-related fine-scale specificity imaged in motor cortex circuits of behaving mice. Nature. 2010; 464(7292):1182-1186.

O’Connor DH, Clack NG, Huber D, Komiyama T, Myers EW and Svoboda K. Vibrissa-based object localization in head-fixed mice. Journal of Neuroscience. 2010; 30(5):1947-1967. See review of this paper at: Stuttgen M.C. Toward behavioral benchmarks for whisker-related sensory processing. Journal of Neuroscience. 2010; 30(14):4827-4829.

O’Connor DH, Huber D and Svoboda K. Reverse engineering the mouse brain. Nature. 2009; 461(7266):923-929.

Mao T*, O’Connor DH*, Scheuss V, Nakai J and Svoboda K. Characterization and subcellular targeting of GCaMP-type genetically-encoded calcium indicators. PLoS ONE. 2008; 3(3):e1796. *, equal contributions.

O’Connor DH, Wittenberg GM and Wang SS-H. Timing and contributions of presynaptic and postsynaptic parameter changes during unitary plasticity events at CA3-CA1 synapses. Synapse. 2007; 61(8):664-678.

Shoham S, O’Connor DH and Segev R. How silent is the brain: is there a “dark matter” problem in neuroscience? Journal of Comparative Physiology - A. 2006; 192(8):777-784.

Shoham S*, O’Connor DH *, Sarkisov DV and Wang SS-H. Rapid neurotransmitter uncaging in spatially defined patterns. Nature Methods. 2005; 2:837-843. *, equal contributions. See News and Views: Haydon PG and Ellis-Davies GCR. Ultrahigh-speed photochemical stimulation of neurons. Nature Methods. 2005; 2:811-812.

O’Connor DH, Wittenberg GM and Wang SS-H. Graded bidirectional synaptic plasticity is composed of switch-like unitary events. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2005; 102(27):9679-9684.

O’Connor DH, Wittenberg GM and Wang SS-H. Dissection of bidirectional synaptic plasticity into saturable unidirectional processes. Journal of Neurophysiology. 2005; 94(2):1565-1573.

Kastner S, Schneider KA and O’Connor DH. Attentional modulation in the human lateral geniculate nucleus and pulvinar. In, Neurobiology of Attention, Eds., Itti L., Rees G. and Tsotsos J., Elsevier Academic Press. 2005.

Potter MC, Dell’Acqua R, Pesciarelli F, Job R, Peressotti F and O’Connor DH. Bidirectional semantic priming in the attentional blink. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 2005; 12(3):460-465.

Kastner S, O’Connor DH, Fukui MM, Fehd HM, Herwig U and Pinsk MA. Functional imaging of the human lateral geniculate nucleus and pulvinar. Journal of Neurophysiology. 2004; 91(1):438-448.

Potter MC, Staub A and O’Connor DH. Pictorial and conceptual representation of glimpsed pictures. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance. 2004; 30(3):478-489.

O’Connor DH, Fukui MM, Pinsk MA and Kastner S. Attention modulates responses in the human lateral geniculate nucleus. Nature Neuroscience. 2002; 5(11):1203-1209.

Potter MC, Staub A and O’Connor DH. The time course of competition for attention: Attention is initially labile. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance. 2002; 28(5):1149-1162.

Potter MC, Staub A, Rado J and O’Connor DH. Recognition memory for briefly-presented pictures: The time course of rapid forgetting. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance. 2002; 28(5):1163-1175.