CURRENT RESEARCH PROJECTS

While it may seem counterintuitive to study neuroscience or diseases like intellectual disability in fruit flies (the first thing many people ask me is if they even have brains?), many of the genes important for nervous system development in humans perform similar functions in the fruit fly, albeit on a much smaller scale.  In fact, Drosophila has been used for several decades to answer all kinds of fascinating questions related to neurobiology, including those focused on learning and memory, circadian rhythms, nervous system development, axonal pathfinding…and many more.

Our lab uses a combination of Drosophila genetics, molecular biology and neuroscience-focused approaches to investigate the following two main questions:

1.     What proteins are required for axonal pathfinding during development?

2.     How is circadian rhythm and sleep controlled at the cellular level?

Students that decide to work on these (or other projects) in my lab can expect to learn a ton about Drosophila genetics, RNA biology, neuroscience, molecular biology, microscopy, and many other topics. Each project is outlined in more detail below.

What proteins are required for axon pathfinding?

Pathfinding involves the growth of a neuronal cell extension called an axon towards a target cell. As an analogy, imagine that you have a vacuum in your living room but the only electrical outlet in your house is in the kitchen. In order to plug that vacuum into its target (the outlet) you need to navigate a couple doorways, maybe a stove or refrigerator, and then actually make contact with the wall outlet. Our neurons (and those of all organisms, really) work the same way during development. They must send long extensions (called axons) from one place to another while navigating through many different cell types. Eventually, they too must form the right connections. Neurons that lack a handful of genes seem to have difficulty in getting to the right location (i.e. they can’t find the kitchen), but right now, we don’t know why – and that’s the focus of this aim of research.

HOW IS SLEEP CONTROLLED AT THE CELLULAR LEVEL?

What is the overall function of sleep? We still really don’t know.  Multiple models exist (see some potential ideas under publications from other labs), but there seems to be no clear consensus in the field currently as to which one is correct.  This is very important clinically since multiple studies have clearly shown that disruptions in circadian rhythms and sleep patterns have been linked to health problems.  Proper amounts of sleep also appear to be involved in memory consolidation following learning, but how these processes all work together still remains unanswered.  The projects focused on this aim in the lab are mainly trying to understand the regions of the fly brain required for sleep, how gene expression changes following sleep deprivation, and how those changes in protein levels correlate with what we know about humans and sleep deprivation. 

 

See our publications.

Funding

Our lab has been graciously funded by the following sources: