Understanding brain circuitry

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Image showing the brain of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster (in blue). Nerv

Image showing the brain of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster (in blue). Nerve cells that together form the two ’mushroom bodies’ are coloured yellow using gene-markers. The research group is working on deciphering the circuits formed by these nerve cells. Photo: David Vasmer

DFG extends funding for neurobiology research group at Göttingen University

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has extended its funding for the research group in Neurobiology at Göttingen University for another three years. The Research Unit "Dissection of a Brain Circuit: Structure, Plasticity and Behavioral Function of the Drosophila mushroom body" investigates nerve cells, synapses and neuronal circuits in the brain of the fruit fly Drosophila as a model system. The total funding is around 2.8 million euros.

How do brains integrate present sensory stimuli and past experience with the future options for behaviour? And what do individual nerve cells, their synapses and neuronal circuits contribute to this process? How do neuronal circuits form during animal development, and what kinds of plasticity enable behaviour to adapt and become optimised through learning? "To understand the principles of how nervous systems encode information from the environment, how they learn and thereby control behaviour to achieve goals, it is useful to focus on a well-studied brain structure in an appropriate model organism," explains the spokesperson of the Research Unit, Professor André Fiala, head of the Department of Molecular Neurobiology of Behaviour at the University of Göttingen.

The brain of a fruit fly is much smaller and simpler than that of mammals. However, the animals show a rich behavioural repertoire and a very complex learning ability. Interestingly, many circuits in fly brains make use of very similar principles as those of vertebrates. Therefore, fruit flies are ideal for studying in detail the principles by which neuronal circuits operate and change.

The international research team includes members of the University of Cologne, the Free University of Berlin, the Charité Berlin, the University of Bonn, the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology in Magdeburg, the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot in Israel, and the Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn. Each team of the research group adds its own experimental approaches, ranging from high-resolution microscopy, molecular biology and behavioural analysis to computer-based network analysis. This combined expertise enables the team to comprehensively investigate how neuronal circuits work.

"This will enable us to clarify, for example, how learning processes are reflected in the complex wiring of nerve cells, how reward and punishment are signalled in the brain, or how the brain communicates with the gastrointestinal tract, in order to learn for instance about the ingestion of pathogenic germs with food and to adjust future behaviour accordingly," says Fiala.

Professor André Fiala

University of Göttingen

Faculty of Biology and Psychology - Molecular Neurobiology of Behaviour

Julia-Lermontowa-Weg 3, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

Tel: +49 (0)551 39-177920

Email: afiala@gwdg.de

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