Primary Supervisor: Dr Carolina Rezaval, School of Biosciences
Secondary supervisor: Professor Alicia Hidalgo
PhD project title: How does the brain make decisions when faced with conflicting options?
University of Registration: University of Birmingham
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, Drosophila melanogaster.
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 Drosophila as 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?
The PhD student will use a range of cutting-edge techniques in neuroscience, including optogenetics, two-photon microscopy to measure neural activity in the brain of live animals, high-resolution behavioural assays, confocal microscopy, molecular biology (e.g., CRISPR) and genetics. To record neural activity in behaving flies, we will collaborate with research groups at Oxford University and Sheffield University.
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.
Check out our lab webpage: https://www.rezavallab.org
and latest publications here: https://www.rezavallab.org/publications.html
Watch a 3-minute video about Dr Rezaval's past work: https://vimeo.com/177551510
- Cheriyamkunnel SJ, Rose S, Jacob PF, Blackburn LA, Glasgow S, Moorse J, Winstanley M, Moynihan PJ, Waddell S, Rezaval C. A neuronal mechanism controlling the choice between feeding and sexual behaviors in Drosophila. Curr Biol. 2021. https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(21)00984-2#%20
In the news:
- Rings A, Goodwin SF. To court or not to court - a multimodal sensory decision in Drosophila males. Curr Opin Insect Sci. 2019 Oct;35:48-53. doi: 10.1016/j.cois.2019.06.009.
- ‘Neuronal modulation of D. melanogaster sexual behaviour’. Ellendersen BE, von Philipsborn AC. Curr Opin Insect Sci. 2017 Dec;24:21-28. doi: 10.1016/j.cois.2017.08.005. Epub 2017 Sep 14.
- ‘100 years of Drosophila research 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.
BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Understanding the Rules of Life: Neuroscience and behaviour
Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:
The PhD student will use a range of cutting-edge techniques in neuroscience, including optogenetics, two-photon microscopy to measure neural activity in the brain of live animals, high-resolution behavioural assays, confocal microscopy, molecular biology (e.g., CRISPR) and genetics. To record neural activity in behaving flies, we will collaborate with a research group at Oxford University.
Contact: Dr Carolina Rezaval, University of Birmingham