Daniel O’Connor

Daniel O’Connor

Professor of Neuroscience

Contact Information

Research Interests: Neural circuits for active touch

Education: Ph.D. Princeton University

Dr. Daniel O’Connor is  professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a researcher at the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute. He works on the senses of touch and proprioception. 

Dr. O’Connor received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Neuroscience at Princeton University in 2006. After postdoctoral training at the Janelia Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Dr. O’Connor joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 2012. Dr. O’Connor’s laboratory moved to the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute in 2020.

Neural circuits for active touch

Our goal is to understand how the senses of touch and proprioception enable us to perceive, interact with, and move about the world.

Touch is an active sense. Mechanosensory neurons in the skin and deep tissues are activated by movements and interactions with objects, and send signals to the central nervous system that guide subsequent movements and produce perception. Much of our work is focused on this closed-loop active touch process.

We explore active touch at essentially all levels of the nervous system, from peripheral mechanosensory neurons to interactions among multiple sensory and motor cortical areas.

Our focus is on orofacial and hand function.

Ongoing topics of work in our lab include:

  • Sensorimotor control of complex tongue movements
  • Tongue mechano-sensing
  • Facial and jaw proprioception
  • Texture and location sensing in the whisker system
  • Neuromodulatory and “top-down” influences on touch perception
  • Haptic shape perception and tactile-visual interactions

We work with multiple species and systems to gain a comparative perspective and leverage tools ranging from mouse genetics to primate behavior. Methods we apply include intracellular and extracellular electrophysiology, two-photon functional imaging, optogenetics, high-speed videography and quantitative behavior.

By unraveling the process of active touch, we hope to: discover principles of mammalian brain function; identify ways that sensorimotor circuit dysfunction contributes to neurological and psychiatric illness; inform the design of neuroprosthetics.

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. PMCID: PMC4696889. *, equal contributions.

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. PMCID: PMC5003632.

Severson KS*, Xu D*, Van de Loo M, Bai L, Ginty DD and O’Connor DH. Active Touch and Self-Motion Encoding by Merkel Cell-Associated Afferents. Neuron. 2017; 94(3):666-676. PMCID: PMC5528144. *, equal contributions.

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. 2018; 23(9):2718-2731. PMCID: PMC6004823.

Severson KS, Xu D, Yang H and O’Connor DH. Coding of whisker motion across the mouse face. Elife. 2019 Feb 28;8. pii: e41535. PMCID: PMC6395061.