Living in a social environment involves diverse types of in teractions during which animals integrate their internal physiological state with the environmental events, and subsequently choose one action over another to increase their chances of survival and reproduction.
We are interested in trying to elucidate the molecular and neuronal mechanisms that are in the interphase between social interaction and reward systems. How different social experiences modulate internal state/ reward and leading to changes in action selection.
One way to gain access into these questions in to look at how social interaction and the experience gained from the interaction is encoded in the brain. This includes understanding how is the experience perceived or sensed by different sensory modalities and how the information about the interaction is represented in a molecular signature within the brain.
Using Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism, we have previously shown that we can tap into the fly’s natural reward system by exposing flies to a socially rewarding experience (abundant mating events) or the lack of it (sexual rejection), and that this experience modulates the perception of reward value. We identified a molecular signature of this experience in the form of changes in neuropepetide F (NPF) levels and NPF neuronal activity, serving as a representation of internal reward level.
Our current research aims to uncover the molecular and neural mechanisms by which rewarding and stress related experiences are perceived, represented in the brain and converted into modulation of behavior, using a combination of cell specific transcriptome analysis, state of the art neurogenetic tools and novel tracking and machine vision technologies.