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.
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.
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.