Research (overview)

Neurons are the building blocks of the brain. Consequently, normal brain function relies on the correct regulation of single neuron properties, such as their synaptic connections, morphology, and membrane currents. Synapses determine information processing between neurons, whereas electrical properties as well as structure determine information processing within neurons. Therefore, even with a complete connectome in hand, understanding brain function requires an intricate analysis of the physiology and functional morphology of its component neurons. Each neuron must acquire a specific ‘Gestalt’ and a defined set of ion channels during development and maintain them within critical ranges throughout life. However, in a computing, adapting, and learning system such as the brain, these properties must also retain functional plasticity. To understand the adaptive regulation of these properties our research objectives are:

• identify the molecular mechanisms that regulate electrical and morphological properties of neurons.

• determine the functional consequences of correct and false regulation of neuronal properties for synaptic integration, neuronal firing patterns, and behavior in the healthy and in the diseased brain.

To address these questions we use Drosophila melanogaster as a model system. In addition to the unprecedented genetic tools available in Drosophila, the transformation from the larval to the adult stage during metamorphosis is a striking example of postembryonic nervous system plasticity and remodeling, and the functions of individually identified neurons can directly be related to stage specific behaviors.