Research

Research Directions

We use Drosophila as a genetic model system to study  mechanisms of perception in the brain. We are interested in three  phenomena: selective attention, sleep, and general anesthesia. Our focus  is on visual perception and how it is affected by these different  arousal states. Most of our current effort is in understanding visual  selective attention in the fly brain and how attention processes  interact with memory formation. Toward this goal, we use various novel  visual paradigms in a Drosophila molecular genetics context.

ATTENTION AND MEMORY

Behavioral choices result from an ongoing interplay between attention  and memory. We have developed paradigms to study visual attention and  memory in Drosophila, thereby allowing us to investigate this  complex problem in a powerful genetic model. Two levels of investigation  are involved: behavior and brain electrophysiology. Behavioral  screening methods allow us to determine visual responsiveness levels  resulting from gene mutations or drug treatments, and electrophysiology  in individual flies identifies brain processes affected by our  manipulations. Our goal is to identify mechanisms of visual attention,  and to elucidate how these processes interact with memory systems.

Flies moving through the maze while visuals are presented from beneath.

ANAESTHESIA AND SLEEP

We all sleep, and many of us require anesthesia during  surgery at some point in our lives. However, the function of sleep is  unclear, and the mechanism of general anesthesia remains mysterious. Our  insight into brain processes modulating visual perception in Drosophila is applied at an electrophysiological level towards understanding sleep  and general anesthesia, when perception is lost. We approach this  problem by targeting candidate molecular systems at the level of  molecular lesions, synaptic recordings, and pharmacology.

The neuromuscular junction recording preparation, where we can record from synapses on the muscle in larval Drosophila.

 

The three dimensional Drosophila melanogaster
The fly nervous system is composed of a brain in the head and a ventral nerve cord in the thorax.  The nervous system pictured here is the octopaminergic system glowing green with the synaptic staining in magenta.

OTHER PROJECTS

Our electrophysiological approaches to studying attention-like processes and memory are easily adapted to other insects. We are interested in applying our paradigms to other species beyond the Drosophila model, such as honeybees. This will allow us to better address specific questions pertaining to neurophysiology as well as to behavioral ecology.

 

The fly and the bee