Understanding how the nervous system and brain of higher animals function is one of the most fascinating and mysterious questions in biology. Understanding the complex organization of the neurons within the brain requires the proper understanding of which genes control the morphology and connectivity of these neurons, as well as understanding which behaviors and/or functions these neurons control in the organism.

To address these questions, we utilize the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. We exploit the powerful genetic and cell biological techniques Drosophila possess to model how genes involved in forms of mental retardation and neurodegeneration affect neuronal morphology and behavior. We employ genetic and molecular biology techniques, histology, cell biology, behavior, and several types of microscopy (confocal, fluorescent, SEM) to address these questions.


Photoreceptor axons from the developing retina (right) bundle together to innervate parts of the developing fly brain (left) that are responsible for processing visual information. We can use this highly stereotypical pattern to understand a specific genes function in how these axons migrate and properly find their targets.

This image shows normal axonal pruning in Mushroom Body neurons (arrow in panel A), compared to abnormal, unpruned axons

in kismet mutants (arrow in panel B). See more in Melicharek et al. 2010

 

This image shows a fruit fly brain stained to show the human Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP) in normal (WT)

and Alzheimer's disease fly brains (APP;BACE). Panels C-E show APP co-stained with a stain for amyloid.

See more in Chakraborty et al. 2010