Knowing how to get to a food source, approximate towards conspecifics or avoid a predator, are orientation behaviours with remarkable consequence for the success of an individual and the fitness of the species. They all depend on the brain’s ability to process sensory stimuli and integrate this with ongoing behaviour to generate spatial information that guides actions. Although much is known about how sensory neurons process incoming stimuli, or how motor neurons generate movements, it remains unclear how other neurons in our brains represent more integrative processes that lead to the transformation of sensation into action.
For visual animals, visually guided locomotion is an ethologically relevant behaviour that is easy to reproduce in a laboratory environment, and depends on the integration of visual motion signals with ongoing locomotion. Through the identification of interconnected neurons, and analysis of their activity patterns in simultaneous with quantitative measurements of visually guided locomotion, we aim to determine the functional organization of visuomotor circuits essential to orientation behaviours. In particular, we would like to understand how self-generated motion vision provides information to guide the animal’s orientation behaviours.
To transcend the experimental limitations found in mammalian model systems, such as the numerical complexity of their brains, or the more limited resources available to systematically identify and perturb neurons of a circuit, we employ the fruitfly, Drosophila melanogaster, as our model organism. Her rich repertoire of visually guided behaviours combined with her unparalleled arsenal of genetic tools, and with head-fixed physiology in behaving animals, provide an ideal platform for a multilevel research program to study the neural bases of orientation behaviours while establishing conserved principles of sensory-motor processing.
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