Our lab wants to understand how the brain generates an internal representation of the outside world, how it stores such representations and uses them to generate meaningful behavior. Our model system is the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, in particular the mushroom body, a brain center for learning and memory. 

Animals are endowed with a range of sensory systems that gather information about the outside world. This information is processed by the brain and, sometimes, stored as a memory. Animals constantly use memories of past experiences to adjust their behavior. The smell of a nutritious fruit, for instance, will become attractive, while that of a sickening chemical will be avoided. We know a great deal about how sensory input is received and processed in the various sense organs, but we know much less about how it is remembered and used during behavioral decisions.

Our lab is studying sensory representations in the context of memory formation using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model system. The fly brain is small and contains far fewer neurons than that of a vertebrate, yet fundamental principles of anatomy and function are very similar. The activity of individual or groups of neurons can be readily observed in living brains using cutting-edge microscopy techniques. A vast battery of genetic and molecular biology tools allows us to trace individual neurons and manipulate their activity reproducibly and with great precision. The effects of these manipulations on behavior can be readily tested. There is no doubt: Drosophila neuroscience is in a golden age right now!


Olfactory representations in the fly brain | Different patterns of activity can be seen in the mushroom body, a memory center, when a fly smells banana (top), mint (middle) or 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate, a pheromone produced by males flies (bottom).