Laboratory of Integrative Brain Function
The Rockefeller University
1230 York Avenue
New York, NY 10065
2012 Searle Scholar
How do Genes Influence Behavior?
Work in genetic model organisms has connected genes to animal behavior. Neurophysiology in awake, behaving animals has associated electrical activity with cognition and action. Our research lies at the interface of these two fields. We seek to discover how genes, through their effects on excitable membranes and synaptic physiology, influence behavior. With premiere genetic tools, superb physiological methods, and robust behavioral paradigms, the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, provides an ideal platform for this research program. Our hope is that a rich, multi-level, understanding of how integrative functions are implemented in the tiny fly brain will pave the road for a similar synthesis in the much larger human brain.
We currently study how flies see the world to produce behavioral responses. Flies are highly visual animals and as such they generate precise behaviors in response to visual stimuli; however, most of the visual cells that drive fruit fly behavior are not known. We use modern genetic approaches to fluorescently label unique classes of visual neurons in Drosophila, and we characterize the responses of these cells to visual stimuli with electrophysiology.
We also record from neurons downstream of the visual system: cells that receive visual signals and transform these inputs into meaningful behavioral responses. We make use of an experimental platform that we recently developed, which allows us for the first time to measure the electrical activity of neurons in behaving (tethered, flying) Drosophila. Using this preparation, we record from central-brain neurons in flying flies to determine how cells integrate sensory inputs to guide flight behavior. With electrical current injection and genetic perturbations we stimulate and silence neurons during flight to assign behavioral roles to these cells.
At the molecular level, we seek to isolate genes that regulate the electrical activity of central-brain neurons. Our goal is to discover new molecules that influence higher brain function and to reveal new computational roles for familiar molecules.
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