The goal of the lab is to understand the fundamental computations that underlie the neural coding of sensory information, and to figure out how sensory signals are used to guide movement and behavior.

sensory neurons (green) in the fly foot(magenta)

The ability of animals to navigate complex environments depends critically on the integration of mechanosensory information with motor commands. For example, human patients who lack mechanosensory feedback can generate coarse limb movements, but are unable to execute fine motor tasks.

To understand the neural computations that occur at the interface of mechanosensation and movement, we study the circuits of the Drosophila ventral nerve cord (VNC), which functions like the vertebrate spinal cord to control the sensation and movement of the limbs. The distinct advantage of the fruit fly as a model system is the existence of specific genetic driver lines that allow us to identify and label specific neurons for targeted recordings. We use electrophysiology and optical imaging to measure neural activity, and genetic tools to label and manipulate specific circuit elements in behaving flies.

Although there are obvious differences between flies and humans, many of the basic building blocks of the nervous system are remarkably similar. These similarities suggest that the principles discovered in circuits of the fruit fly will be highly relevant to sensorimotor processing in other animals.

On proprioception and fruit flies from John Tuthill.