Gerald Rubin’s lab team develops new research tools that they and others use to study the structure and function of the nervous system in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Their overall goal is to understand the circuit and cellular mechanisms that underlie neuronal functions such as learning and memory, sleep, and the processing of visual information.
To effectively probe the nervous system, scientists need to be able to visualize and manipulate the function of individual neuronal cells and cell types – but these kinds of studies have been limited by inadequate research tools. Over the past several years, the Rubin lab has developed a number of methods that researchers are using to comprehensively analyze the anatomy and function of the fruit fly brain at the level of individual cell types or circuits.
Rubin’s team has constructed and characterized a large collection of transgenic animals, for example, in which researchers can genetically tag individual neuronal cell types and instruct them to produce specific proteins or RNAs. They are using these reagents and methods to perform detailed anatomic studies of several key areas of the fruit fly brain, including the optic lobes, mushroom body, and central complex.
Because many types of data will be required to understand how the brain stores and processes information, Rubin’s team carries out much of its work in collaboration with lab groups skilled in complementary areas of expertise, including electron microscopic circuit mapping, electrophysiology, functional imaging, behavioral analysis, and theory. These studies will ultimately reveal how individual neurons are connected into functional circuits and how these circuits control fly behavior.
Morphology of Individual Neurons. Four neurons in the Drosophila central complex, which have been labeled in different colors using a stochastic genetic labeling method.
Nern, A. et al. 2015 Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 112:E2967-76; and Wolff, T. et al. 2015 J Comp Neurol. 523:997-1037.