- Brain Awareness Week
Molecular and cellular mechanisms of hearing and auditory behavior
We are interested in molecular and cellular mechanisms of how organisms detect sounds, and how they use information from sounds to direct their behavior.
Drosophila males sing the "love song" to females by wing vibration. Females and males both hear the love song with their antennae and respond in a sex-specific manner. Using Drosophila, we can combine genetics with electrophysiology and behavior to dissect hearing mechanisms. We have identified mutants that no longer respond normally to the love song. The beethoven mutant disrupts the electrophysiology of Johnston’s organ, the mechanoreceptive organ in the antenna responsible for hearing. Identifying the gene product of beethoven and other such genes and examining their functional roles in hearing will provide new insights into auditory molecular mechanisms in Drosophila, and perhaps in humans as well.
We also want to understand how organisms decipher the meaning in auditory information, and how males and females can respond differently to the same sounds. Therefore, we want to study firing patterns in the sensory neurons, and neuronal circuitry by which the brain decodes these patterns into motor outputs. Finally, we want to determine if any sounds can evoke other behaviors such as escape from predators.