How to make the brain work?
Research in the Sprecher lab is focussed on fundamental questions in neuroscience. We hereby investigate several aspects of the large neural cell type diversity, how neurons and circuits encode and decode sensory information to control or modulate behaviour.
Since the brain is by far the most complex of all organ systems we use combine techniques and models to study the nervous system:
The fruit fly and its genetic tools by hand provides an excellent model system to gain insight into the development and function of the nervous system.
We combine molecular genetics, invivo and invitro genetic manipulations, neuronal circuit analysis, confocal microscopy, serial electron microscopy with behavioral paradigms such as automated tracking, learning and memory and activity monitoring to assess stress-resistance, sleep or life-span.
To explore the generality of common principles we include studies on other animal species, in particularly focusing common evolutionary origins of how the nervous system is organized to control behaviour. These include the starlet sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, Acoels Isodiametra pulrchra and Symsagittifera roscoffensis. We develop molecular tools for the questions we investigate in these species.
Sensing the surrounding world
One of the most striking features of our nervous system is its ability to translate information of the environment into neuronal signals.
How neurons are able to mediate this complex translation of a virtually infinite number of chemical and physical stimuli remains a largely enigmatic topic. We use molecular genetics to identify the molecular machinery that determine during development, which stimulus a given sensory neuron will become capable to perceive. The visual system and gustatory system of the Drosophila larva provide an excellent entry point to these studies with a wealth of genetic tools that may be used to manipulate neurons, circuits and analyse neuronal activity or behavioural responses.
“Without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all.” (F.Nietsche)
In addition of the significance of learning and remembering certain things, it is also important to forget associations in a constantly changing environment. Our research addresses the underlying network and molecular events of forgetting using the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) as a model organism.
Olfactory classical conditioning is widely used to study memory ability in fruit flies. In this assay, fruit flies are sequentially exposed to two odorants. One of this odorant, but not the other, is paired with electric shock. In a test situation after the learning, in which the flies can chose between the two odorants, fruit flies are smart enough to avoid the punished one. Depending on the training protocol distinct forms of memory can be studied, including short-term and long-term memory.
While the neuronal, cellular and genetic bases of learning have been extensively studied in Drosophila only very little is known of the cellular and molecular mechanisms that erase unwanted or unused memories. Therefore we are focusing on the behavioral, structural and genetic level to investigate forgetting.