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How does the brain make decisions when faced with conflicting options?

Principal Supervisor: Dr Carolina Rezaval, School of Biosciences

Co-supervisor: TBC

PhD project title: How does the brain make decisions when faced with conflicting options?

University of Registration: University of Birmingham

Project outline:

Animals engage in daily activities that are essential for survival and reproduction, such as feeding, mating or fighting for resources. How does an animal prioritise one behaviour over others? We know that cues conveying external information (e.g., threats from other animals, access to food) and internal state (e.g., fear, hunger, tiredness) guide behavioural choices. However, exactly how action-selection occurs in the brain remains unknown.

This research proposal aims to understand how the brain makes decisions when faced with conflicting options using the fruit fly model, Drosophilamelanogaster.

Fruit flies exhibit complex behaviours that are controlled by a relatively small brain. Furthermore, sophisticated genetic tools are available which facilitate the control of individual neurons with temporal resolution, enabling us to probe the circuitry underlying behaviour.

Using Drosophilaas a model system provides a unique opportunity to address fundamental aspects of action- selection: how does the brain integrate information from the outside world and internal state to select the most appropriate action for each situation? What neurons and mechanisms underlie these behavioural decisions?

To address these questions, the PhD student will use a range of cutting-edge techniques: genetics, confocal microscopy, optogenetics, thermogenetics, molecular biology, and behavioural assays. To record neural activity in behaving flies, we will collaborate with research groups at Oxford University and Tel Aviv University.

Significance

How the brain selects appropriate actions is a fascinating question that remains unknown. Choosing appropriate actions is not only crucial for our life but can, collectively, influence the course of our society. Furthermore, action-selection processes are impaired in addiction and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.Understanding how different neurons contribute to optimal action-selection in a genetically tractable experimental system will help us advance our knowledge of how the brain works, and what goes wrong in disease.

More information

Check out our lab webpage:https://www.rezavallab.org

Watch a 3-minute video about Dr Rezaval's past work: https://vimeo.com/177551510

Dr. Rezaval's previous work at Oxford University can be found here:https://www.dpag.ox.ac.uk/team/carolina-rezaval-1

References:

  1. ‘100 years of Drosophilaresearch and its impact on vertebrate neuroscience: a history lesson for the future’.Bellen HJ1, Tong C, Tsuda H. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2010 Jul;11(7):514-22. doi: 10.1038/nrn2839.
  2. ‘Neuromodulation of Innate Behaviors in Drosophila’.Kim SM1, Su CY1, Wang JW1. Annu Rev Neurosci. 2017 Jul 25;40:327-348. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-072116-031558. Epub 2017 Apr 24.
  3. Six Nobel prizes –what’s the fascination with the fruit fly? https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/oct/07/fruit-fly-fascination-nobel-prizes-genetics

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Food Security

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

This research will take advantage of the sophisticated genetic tools available in Drosophilato track neural circuits underlying action-selection. The PhD student will use a range of cutting-edge techniques, including genetics, confocal microscopy, optogenetics, thermogenetics, molecular biology, and high resolution behavioural assays.We have established collaborations with research groups at Oxford University (Prof. Scott Waddell) and Tel Aviv University (Dr Moshe Parnas) to probe questions of neural circuits and behaviour using multiphoton imaging in the live fly.

Contact: Dr Carolina Rezaval, University of Birmingham