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Event Detail (Archived)

Neural Correlates of Orienting Behaviors and Latent Action Biases

Event Details

Friday Lecture Series
Rachel Wilson, Ph.D., Martin Family Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School; investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Cue integration and flexible action selection are essential elements of brain function. A key open question is how these operations are implemented at the level of circuit connectivity and cellular physiology. Dr. Wilson's laboratory has recently been investigating this question by focusing on the upper motor neurons of the Drosophila brain – i.e., the neurons that project to the ventral nerve cord (the “spinal cord”). They have been recording from these cells in walking flies while also presenting sensory guidance cues. They have identified several types of upper motor neurons whose dendritic arbors reside mainly in the lateral accessory lobe (LAL), a brain region involved in limb control. They have found that the LAL integrates guidance cues from higher sensory regions, including visual, olfactory, and mechanosensory regions. It is also bidirectionally connected to the brain region which contains the representation of the organism’s heading direction. They find that LAL upper motor neurons encode both multisensory variables and motor variables related to orienting (turning) behaviors. The LAL is involved in selecting among competing sensory cues, representing latent biases in action selection, and gating turns based on salience cues. These findings provide a foundation for a more mechanistic understanding of how spatial guidance cues, contextual salience cues, and internal brain states are integrated to produce flexible motor control.

Dr. Wilson received an A.B. in chemistry summa cum laude from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of California, San Francisco. She did postdoctoral training at the California Institute of Technology before joining the faculty in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School in 2004, where she is now the Martin Family Professor of Basic Research in the Field of Neurobiology. She was a Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, and a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. Among other honors, she received the Smith Family Foundation Prize for Outstanding Scientific Contributions, the Lawrence C. Katz Prize for Innovative Research in Neuroscience, and was the inaugural Blavatnik National Laureate in Life Sciences. Dr. Wilson is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Justin Sloboda
(212) 327-7785
Open to
Graduate Fellows
Refreshments, 3:15 p.m. - 3:45 p.m., Abby Lounge
Justin Sloboda
(212) 327-7785

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