NYSCF Investigator Maps Fly’s Neurons to Counter Insect-Borne Disease

The brain, dense with neurons, translates external stimuli into behavioral responses and learned memories, and just how this information is decoded can mean the difference between life and death. Focusing on a model system of a housefly's response to odors, 2012 NYSCF – Robertson Investigator Vanessa Ruta, PhD, of The Rockefeller University traces the anatomical connections between different neuron types in a new Nature study. Following the path of neurons responsible for receiving odor inputs to those that sync up in the mushroom body, a fly's brain center where odors are decoded, Ruta with colleagues found highly random connections. Instead of one input connecting to one output, odors were translated down a multivariate path. This highly plastic configuration may be to the fly's advantage: it can respond appropriately to a full range of unpredictable situations and odors. Ultimately, Ruta aims to use these insights to identify strategies that counter the spread of insect-borne disease.

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