Computation and Neural Systems Seminar
Vision provides the richest source of information about the external world, and most seeing organisms devote enormous neural resources to visual processing. In addition to visual reflexes, many animals use visual features to learn and recall specific routes and locations, such as the placement of a nest or food source. Drosophila melanogaster is a powerful model organism for dissecting the neural circuitry underlying complex behaviors, from sensory perception to learning and memory. However, the extent to which flies use vision to navigate and remember specific locations has been unclear. I will describe an experimental system we developed to demonstrate that Drosophila are capable of forming and retaining visual place memories to guide selective navigation. By targeted genetic silencing of small subset of neurons in the Drosophila brain, we show that cells in the central complex are specifically required for visual place learning. These studies reveal distinct neuroanatomical substrates for spatial versus non-spatial learning, and substantiate Drosophila as a powerful model for the study of spatial memories. I will present our recent efforts to pin down the behavioral strategies and neural circuits flies use to associate visual objects with spatial locations.