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Engineering Neural Circuits to Understand Sensorimotor Transformations

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

4:00 PM-5:30 PM

BIOMED Seminar

Engineering Neural Circuits to Understand Sensorimotor Transformations

Catherine von Reyn, PhD
Assistant Professor
School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems
Drexel University

To interact with our environment, we rely on sensorimotor transformations, where our nervous system outputs behavioral responses from inputs of light, sound, smell, taste, and touch. We here seek to uncover the general algorithms for these transformations and to establish the underlying circuit and molecular mechanisms that enable their computations. As our model system, we use the optic glomeruli of Drosophila melanogaster, a central brain region whose inputs are visual feature encoding neurons from the optic lobe (fly retina) and outputs include descending neurons that project to pre-motor and motor centers in the ventral nerve cord (fly spinal cord).

To identify, probe, and manipulate these neurons, we apply the genetic engineering toolkit of Drosophila. We use selective labeling of neural processes to investigate how sensorimotor circuits are established during development and apply in vivo whole-cell electrophysiology and optogenetics to generate functional circuit diagrams. We combine selective neural silencing, electrophysiology, and computational modeling to establish the role of each neuron within these circuits and use behavior assays to investigate how these circuits generate diverse behavioral outputs.

Finally, we engineer novel connections within these circuits to alter their input-output relationships. Our work has revealed key mechanisms for sensorimotor processing that may help us understand how sensorimotor processing deficits arise in neurodevelopmental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.

Catherine von Reyn, PhD, is an assistant professor at Drexel University in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Sciences and Health Systems, with a secondary appointment at the Drexel University College of Medicine in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy. She received her BS in Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, her PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania, and she conducted her postdoctoral work at Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

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