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Research Departments >Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Neurobiology > Molecular Physiology of Behavior > Research Report

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Molecular Physiology of Behavior

Credit Jan Polabinskii

    Behavior is the ultimate manifestation of brain and hormonal activities, and it represents the unmet challenge of neuroscience. Our aim is to understand the neuroendocrine control of animal behavior in response to environmental and internal cues and its links with several neurological diseases using Drosophila as a model system. Our experimental approach combines genetic, physiological and molecular biology tools, as well as diverse quantitative analysis of behavior.

The two main lines of research are as follows:

1. To understand the link between circadian rhythms of locomotor activity and memory.

    The pattern of locomotor activity adjusts to and day/night cycles due to an endogenous biological clock relatively well known at the molecular level. Disturbances in these biological rhythms (named circadians) result in sleep problems, typical symptoms of many psychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. These diseases are also characterized by problems in memory and locomotor activity. However, the underlying neural and molecular architecture that connects circadian clock circuit, and locomotor and memory centers remains mostly unknown. The high conservation between the fly and human circadian clock regulatory mechanisms, and functional similarities in their memory and locomotor centers make Drosophila a good model to identify the relation among biological clock, memory and locomotor activity in normal and pathological conditions.
    Our experimental approach includes the study of the circadian locomotor activity in mutant animals in already well-known learning and memory-related genes. We aim to identify the hierarchy of systemic and cellular processes that connect circadian locomotor activity and memory.

2. To study how hormones are able to modify behavior.

    Neuroendocrine system modifies our behavior, in part through hormone-mediated changes in neuronal physiology. An example is the prothoracicotropic hormone (ptth) of Drosophila. This hormone regulates not only the juvenile-adult transition but also an innate behavior such as light avoidance during the juvenile period.
    This line of research seeks for additional innate behaviors that may be regulated by ptth. The experimental strategy includes the regulated manipulation in space and time of ptth expression and signaling in specific neurons. Our ultimate objective is to establish a functional link between ptth-mediated signaling and specific innate behavioral brain centers.

The first two pictures show the circadian gene cry expression in the adult brain, as well as the device we use to study locomotor activity.
The next two photos are the neuronal circuit of ptth neurons in the larva, and our model for the two distinct roles of ptth at pupariation.
Finally, we have a staining for ptth and its receptor torso in the adult brain.

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