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Deciphering the Neural Control of Flexible Innate Behaviors

Research Summary

Parvez Ahammad uses a combination of computational algorithms, multichannel electrophysiology, and optogenetics to understand how the brain controls and coordinates the organization of flexible innate behaviors in Drosophila.

Consider the richness of the cues perceived by an animal and the range of motor actions it can choose to respond with. Under constantly changing conditions, the animal has to extract relevant features from the high-dimensional stimuli and choose among many alternatives and coordinate appropriate motor actions in a flexible manner. This flexibility in organizing the behavioral response allows the animal to adapt to the environmental context. Remarkably, even simple living systems seem to be able to make these high-dimensional inferences very robustly under nonstationary and noisy conditions. Yet, even in simple animal model systems, the mechanisms for coordinating robust population-level information processing that enable the control of flexible voluntary behaviors are not fully understood.

I am interested in understanding how the brain organizes the robust sensorimotor communication pathways that control flexible organization of innate behaviors.  Recent advances in genetics and electrophysiological technologies are opening up avenues to study how Drosophila (fruit fly) accomplishes this impressive engineering feat. I am drawn to Drosophila because it is a tractable model system that displays a wide array of interesting innate flexible behaviors. Given the anatomical organization, populations of descending interneurons are in a prime position to play a vital role in flexible sensorimotor control. My current experimental focus is on analyzing the population dynamics of descending interneurons in two sensorimotor behaviors: Drosophila escape (in collaboration with the Card Lab) and Drosophila grooming (in collaboration with the Simpson Lab). On the computational analysis/modeling side, I strive to develop computational tools that are general and useful in other model systems as well.

In the context of Drosophila systems neuroscience, I work closely with the Jayaraman Lab, the Harris Lab (APIG), the Card Lab, and the Simpson Lab at Janelia. I also have active computational collaborations with labs working on the rodent model system (Pastalkova Lab, Dudman Lab and A. Lee Lab).

As of August 22, 2013

Scientist Profile

Janelia Junior Fellow
Janelia Research Campus
Computational Biology, Neuroscience