The developmental processes that establish the basic organizational and functional principles of the neuronal circuits in the brain.
We are interested in understanding how the neuronal circuits assemble, functionally mature, remodel and change in developmental and evolutionary time scales. To understand these processes my lab uses the olfactory system of the genetically tractable Drosophila melanogaster. Both vertebrates and invertebrates detect different volatile chemicals in their environment via specialized receptors called olfactory receptors expressed on the surface of olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs). A remarkable aspect of the olfactory circuits in both systems is the extreme functional specialization of individual ORNs accompanied by a high level of diversity of the ORN classes that make up the entire olfactory system. Each ORN class is defined by the exclusive expression of only one olfactory receptor gene from a large genomic repertoire and their class-specific connectivity in the brain. Expression of the olfactory receptor gene tunes each class of ORNs to its preferred set of chemicals. Our research aims to answer three fundamental questions in developmental and evolutionary neurobiology using the Drosophila olfactory system:
1- What are the transcriptional and epigenetic networks that regulate cellular specification and diversity of olfactory receptor neurons?
2- How is sensory neuron function established during development and modulated with experience?
3- What are the mechanisms of morphological and functional evolution of the olfactory circuits that underlie species-specific differences in odor-guided behaviors?