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Memory, motivation and individuality

Rewarding (green) and motivating (blue) dopamine neurons both innervate the fly mushroom bodies (grey). © Wolf Huetteroth
Rewarding (green) and motivating (blue) dopamine neurons both innervate the fly mushroom bodies (grey).

Directed behaviour emerges from neural integration of sensory stimuli, memory of prior experience and internal states. The Waddell group seeks an understanding of these conserved neural mechanisms using genetically-encoded tools and the relatively small brain of Drosophila. By temporally controlling neural function memories can be implanted and internal states altered so that most flies behave according to our direction. Such recent studies have revealed a role for distinct subsets of dopaminergic neurons that innervate the mushroom bodies in reward learning, the control of motivated behaviour and the re-evaluation of learned information. The unique cellular resolution of the reinforcement system of the fly permits a detailed investigation of how it really works.

One might interpret the relative ease of altering behaviour to indicate that everything is simple in the fly brain. However, complexity arises in unexpected ways. Some transposable elements show cell-specific expression, including in long-term memory relevant neurons of the mushroom body. We have recently found that cell-specific expression arises from pieces of transposons being captured by splicing into cellular mRNAs. We are investigating how the additional transcript diversity contributes to gene expression, cellular and organismal individuality.

We are part of the Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour.

Our team

Selected publications

Related research themes

We host a number of internationally recognised neuroscience groups, with expertise in a wide range of experimental and computational methods.

We host a number of internationally recognised ...