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Search Results to Elizabeth Heckscher

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keywords Drosophila
overview My lab studies the assembly and function of sensorimotor circuits. Sensorimotor circuits, such as those found in the human spinal cord, are required for all behavior. These circuits perform functions unique from those of other brain regions. They process a variety of somatosensory stimuli such as heat, light-touch, pain, and self-movement. These circuits generate patterned muscle contractions that are specifically tuned to allow animals to move in a changing environment. Movement control- My lab is interested in understanding how neural circuits implement the motor programs that allow animals to move. Our goal is to understand the functional architecture of a sensorimotor system at the cellular level. Circuit assembly- We are also interested in understanding the developmental logic of that explains how sensorimotor circuits form. Our goal is to understand how developmental history impacts circuit assembly: what is the role in functional circuit development of lineage, neuronal birth timing, and cell fate determining transcription factors? Approach- As a model system, we use the Drosophila embryonic / larval nerve cord to study sensorimotor circuits. The functions performed by Drosophila sensorimotor circuits are similar to the function performed by other sensorimotor circuits in other organisms. Drosophila larva are unique, however, in the availability of cutting-edge tool, such as: 1. Sophisticated genetics- The expansive molecular genetic tool kit available in flies, allows us to selectively and reproducible manipulate and monitor the activity of neurons, often achieving single cell resolution. These tools also allow us to manipulate gene function in neurons of interest. 2. Genetically-encoded tools to manipulate and monitor neuronal function- Our lab uses high-throughput behavioral assays combined with genetically-encoded optogenetic effectors to manipulate neuronal function. Further because Drosophila larvae are transparent, we use calcium sensors to in intact freely moving animals to monitor neuronal function. 3. Drosophila larval “connectome”- Connectomics is a burgeoning area of neuroscience research likely to transform the entire field. Connectomics seeks to comprehensively map neurons and their interconnections at subcellular resolution. The importance of the Drosophila larval connectome to our work is that it gives us a complete picture of the nervous system at an unprecedented level of detail. Thus, using the Drosophila embryo / larva, we have a unique opportunity to answer fundamental questions with a new level of precision. Our studies are expected to provide insights relevant to nervous system evolution and motile robot design, to produce a detailed understanding of how neural circuits allow animals to move, and to generate developmental insight relevant to stem cell reprogramming that could be used to replace diseased/damaged neural tissue.

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  • Drosophila