Your browser is unsupported

We recommend using the latest version of IE11, Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

Photo of Zak, Joseph

Joseph Zak

Assistant Professor

Biological Sciences


Building & Room:

SELE 4103

Office Phone:

(312) 996-5437


Related Sites:


How do past experiences influence future sensory perception? For the brain to reliably encode ever changing information about the environment, neurons must modify both their activity profiles and connectivity. These changes allow our sensory systems to accurately interpret complex stimuli and their environmental, energetic, or social relevance. The goal of our research is to answer fundamental questions about the development, connectivity, and dynamics of neural circuits, as they pertain to sensory experience and learning.

To address these questions, we use the olfactory system, or sense of smell, as a model. Mice are capable of performing intricate olfactory-guided behaviors which can then be probed by manipulating the underlying neural circuitry of the system. For example, cortical feedback projections to the olfactory bulb are uniquely positioned at the interface between detection-based processing that is driven by sensory input and analytical processing that occurs in cortical regions of the brain. This arrangement makes these projections an ideal target to study how learning reshapes neuronal activity profiles and connectivity to allow animals to parse sensory scenes.

We use a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates electrophysiological, in vivo imaging, behavioral, and computational techniques to uncover how learned associations modify the connectivity and information coding capacity of neural circuits dedicated to the detection and perception of sensory stimuli.

Selected Publications

(complete list of publications on Google Scholar)

Research Articles

  1. Zak JD, Schoppa NE (2021) Neurotransmitter regulation rather than cell-intrinsic properties shape the high-pass filtering properties of olfactory bulb glomeruli. Journal of Physiology 2:393-417 [pdf]
  2. Zak JD, Schoppa NE (2021) Optical manipulations reveal strong reciprocal inhibition but limited recurrent excitation within olfactory bulb glomeruli. eNeuro 0311-21.2021 †corresponding author [pdf]
  3. Zak JD, Reddy G, Vergassola M, Murthy VN (2020) Antagonistic odor interactions in olfactory sensory neurons are widespread in freely breathing mice. Nature Communications 11:3350 †corresponding author
  4. Gire DH**, Zak JD**, Bourne JN, Goodson N, Schoppa NE (2019) Balancing extrasynaptic excitation and synaptic inhibition within olfactory bulb glomeruli. eNeuro 6(4)0247-19.2019 **equal contribution [pdf]
  5. Albeanu DF, Provost AC, Agarwal P, Soucy E, Zak JD, Murthy VN (2018) Olfactory marker protein (OMP) regulates formation and refinement of the olfactory glomerular map. Nature Communications 9:5073 [pdf]
  6. Zak JD, Grimaud J, Li R-C, Lin C-C, Murthy VN (2018) Calcium-activated chloride channels clamp odor-evoked spike activity in olfactory receptor neurons. Scientific Reports 8:10600 [pdf]
  7. Reddy G**, Zak JD**, Vergassola M, Murthy VN (2018) Antagonism in olfactory receptor neurons and its implications for the perception of odor mixtures. eLife 7:e35958 **equal contribution
  8. Zak JD, Whitesell JD, Schoppa NE (2015) Metabotropic glutamate receptors promote disinhibition of olfactory bulb glomeruli that scales with input strength. Journal of Neurophysiology 113(6):1907-20 [pdf]
  9. Gire DH, Franks KM, Zak JD, Tanaka KF, Whitesell JD, Mulligan AA, Hen R, Schoppa NE (2012) Mitral cells of the olfactory bulb are mainly excited through a multi-step signaling path. Journal of Neuroscience 32:2964-75 [pdf]
  10. Zhang Z-W, Zak JD, Liu H (2010) MeCP2 is required for normal development of GABAergic circuits in the thalamus.Journal of Neurophysiology 103(5):2470-81 [pdf]

Reviews & Commentary

  1. Zak JD**, Wallace J**, Murthy VN (2020) How neuroscience labs can limit their environmental impact. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 21:347-8 **equal contribution [pdf]
  2. Zak JD (2016) A computational framework for temporal sharpening of stimulus input in the olfactory system. Journal of Neurophysiology 115(4):1749-51 [pdf]


Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology, Harvard University
Ph.D. in Neuroscience, University of Colorado
B.S. in Neuroscience, University of Michigan