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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 are expressed in long-term memory relevant neurons of the mushroom body. We are interested in how transposons might contribute 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