Neuronal Plasticity and Development in Drosophila
The long-term research goals in the laboratory concern the genetic framework underlying nervous system function and behavior in the context of nature-nurture interactions. Our current research involves analyses at difference levels in Drosophila mutants and natural variant. A combination of electrophysiological, anatomical, cell biological, genetic and behavioral techniques is employed to study the neural basis of behavior in both in situ and in vitro preparations.
Currently, we focus on mutants of the fruit fly Drosophila with altered nerve excitability and deficiencies in learning behavior. Modifications of ionic channels and synaptic machineries are analyzed by electrophysiological measurements from nerve and muscle cells. The effects of single-gene mutations and their interactions in double mutants provide clues for the functional organization of ionic channels and second-messenger pathways that govern neuronal activities and synaptic plasticity. Alterations are correlated with molecular genetic data to improve our understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms.
These mutants are also used to study plasticity in the development of the nervous system. The effects of altered nerve activity and synaptic properties on path finding, arborization, and maintenance of neural connectivities are determined in neuronal cultures. Genetic mosaics can be constructed to analyze the behavioral and physiological consequences of introducing mutant neurons to alter different parts of the neural circuits involved in specific behavioral tasks.