Our lab is studying how the brain controls behavior and metabolism, using Drosophila as a model organism. We are focusing on the neural circuits that mediate feeding behavior, and the internal metabolic and external sensory fators that modulate this activity. A combination of molecular genetic, behavioral, imaging and electrophysiological tools are being used to identify the feeding neural circuitry and to elucidate the molecular mechanisms by which these circuits operate to select meaningful motor patterns and metabolic pathways.
We are currently working on two major themes:
The larval feeding circuit
We would like to produce a comprehensive neural connectivity map of the larval feeding system. This requires identifying and interconnecting the neurons involved in sensory signaling, higher order central processing, and motor and endocrine outputs. This is being done by using large scale screens that enable the manipulation and monitoring of targetted sets of neurons at single cell resolution. In collaboration with the Cardona and Truman labs at Janelia Farm Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, we are also working on the "larval feeding connectome", in which serial electron microscope sections are used to reconstruct the entire larval central nervous system.
Metabolic signaling in the brain
Within the context of neuronal circuits that underlie feeding behavior, we are also studying the signaling mechanisms that regulate metabolic pathways in the larval brain. We are focusing on cells responsible for amino acid and lipid homeostasis, including glial cells that act as blood-brain barriers or as sites for nutrient/metabolic storage. These processes are critical for modulating food intake and search behaviors, neuroendocrine interactions with the periphery, and innate defense mechanisms.