Elucidating the Neural Circuitry
Underlying Multisensory Decision-Making in Drosophila
by Alex Buhimschi
This summer, I am working in Yale’s Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology in the lab of Dr. Michael N. Nitabach. The aim of this summer research is to train fruit flies to associate visual cues (e.g. the colors green or blue) with aversive stimuli (e.g. a pulsed electric shock) and then determine whether they can retain these memories. Therefore, flies trained to associate the color green with a shock should learn to avoid green even in the absence of shock. Later, we want to test the same type of conditioning on mutant flies with subsets of their dopaminergic neurons either activated or suppressed to identify which specific neurons are involved in the multisensory decision making process.
With the help and expertise of Josh Revkin, we used the museum’s ShopBot to build a new training rig capable of both classical and operant conditioning because it allows us to deliver shocks to either half of our arena. The new design uses two parallel coils spaced closely together so that when a fly comes in contact with two adjacent rails, it completes the circuit and receives a shock. An arduino controls the frequency (pulsed or continuous) and position (right or left) of shocks as well as the colors (blue, green, or red) of the LED backlight board. So far this work has challenged me to apply skills I learned as an apprentice like engineering, electronics, and programming. I am very thankful for the exposure the museum gave me to integrating these disciplines in new and creative ways.