Drosophila Module


Our module will focus on sensorimotor physiology and behavior of the nimble fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Students will gain experience with modern techniques for quantitative behavior, whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology, 2-photon calcium imaging, and genetic methods for manipulating fly neural circuits.

As an introduction to fly behavior, students will first examine visually-guided steering of tethered, flying flies in a virtual reality flight simulator. These arenas can be operated in two modes: ‘open-loop’, in which the experimenter presents a visual stimulus to which the flies responds, and 2) ‘closed-loop’ in which the flies themselves control a panoramic visual display by modulating their wing motion (fly virtual-reality). By performing experiments in open- and closed-loop, it is possible to study the functional architecture of the visual and flight control systems of intact, behaving animals. A major emphasis of this exercise will be on the design, implementation, and computational analysis of hypothesis-driven experiments.

In parallel with these behavioral studies, students will design and implement experiments using three advanced methods for in vivo recording of neural activity. (1) We will use bright-field calcium imaging to record calcium signals from the steering muscles of behaving flies. (2) We will use 2-photon calcium imaging to measure activity of central neurons in the fly central brain in response to controlled mechanosensory stimuli. (3) We will use whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology to map the response tuning of neurons in the Drosophila visual system. Student projects will address conceptually novel questions, and have the potential to produce important new insights.

Together, these exercises and experiments will familiarize students with modern techniques for cracking neural circuits in Drosophila. The module will also emphasize the role of quantitative experimental design and analysis, with a particular attention paid to using the fly as model organism to investigate fundamental questions in systems neuroscience.

Fly Flight Module Faculty and Teaching Assistants

maimonGaby Maimon
Rockefeller University

I have a longstanding interest in integrative/cognitive brain processes. In my early career, through graduate school, I studied this topic in primates, where I aimed to better understanding how actions are initiated through neurophysiological recordings in awake, behaving monkeys. As a post-doc, I transitioned to studying Drosophila with Michael Dickinson and we developed a preparation that allows one to record the electrical activity of neurons during locomotor (tethered flight) behavior for the first time. My lab uses this preparation, alongside behavioral and anatomical experiments, to understand how fly brains implement higher brain functions. The long term goal of this work is to use Drosophila to develop deeper, circuit, cellular and molecular, level understandings of behavior. Such understandings in Drosophila could inspire new approaches and hypotheses on integrative brain functions across all nervous systems, big and small. Gaby was an NS&B faculty member in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014.


JohnTuthillJohn Tuthill
University of Washington

My lab seeks to understand how the nervous system senses and controls the body. A specific question we are pursuing right now is how proprioceptive feedback guides adaptive motor behaviors such as walking and grooming. We are combining genetic tools with electrophysiology and 2-photon imaging to investigate proprioceptive neural coding in sensory neurons and downstream computations in the central nervous system. Ultimately, we want to know how these sensory feedback signals interact with feedforward commands from motor circuits to rapidly and precisely modify behavior. We believe that a deep understanding of compact and flexible sensorimotor neural circuits will allow us to develop massive swarms of annoying microrobots. John was an NS&B TA in 2013 and 2015.


lisa-fenkLisa Fenk
Rockefeller University

I am a postdoc in Gaby Maimon’s lab at Rockefeller University. I am generally interested in how active movements of an animal interact with feed-forward sensory processing. How do animals actively move their sensors to gather behaviorally relevant information? How is the brain able to differentiate sensory input caused by the animal’s own movements from external events? Currently, I am focusing on suppressive, quantitative inputs that arrive to the fly visual system during flight saccades. These inputs are poised to abrogate unwanted visual consequences of saccades, consistent with serving the purpose of efference copies. My current experiments aim to unravel the origin of this motor-related modulation of sensory processing in the fly brain. Lisa joined the Drosophila faculty in 2017.

brad-dickersonBrad Dickerson

I am currently a postdoc in Michael Dickinson’s lab at Caltech. My research focuses on how rapid mechanoreceptive feedback can be used to help control reflexive compensatory responses as well voluntary maneuvers. I focus my attention on the wings and a structure that is unique to true flies known as halteres, both of which are responsible for providing tonic mechanosensory feedback during flight. It is my belief that studying the cascade of sensorimotor transformations that influence flight behavior will provide a deeper understanding of how an animal’s body dynamics and musculoskeletal system interact with the nervous system to produce behaviors that are flexible and robust to external perturbations. Brad joined the Drosophila team in 2017.


bennett-ferrisBennett Ferris
Rockefeller University

I am a graduate student in Gaby Maimon’s lab at Rockefeller University. I work on neurons in Drosophila brain that that represents the fly’s heading direction, and I am studying how that heading signal is updated in the absence of visual landmarks. I am interested how brains integrate different types of sensory information to update quantitative variables, and how such variables influence an animal’s behavior. Bennett joined the Drosophila team in 2017.

Stephen Hostephen-holtzltz
Harvard University

I am currently a Graduate Student in Rachel Wilson’s lab at Harvard. My research focuses on the Drosophila auditory system, and developing an understanding of how auditory neurons represent sensory space. I develop and use techniques for performing in vivo recordings while delivering acute stimulation, and construct quantitative models of neural responses. In particular, I am interested in using these models to better understand how different populations of neurons convey particular features of the auditory landscape, and further figuring out if flies are, as is generally suspected, plotting to overthrow the lab. Stephen joined the Drosophila team in 2017.