Researchers at the Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna present novel method to study the activity of specific brain regions in moving flies.
In a joint effort with collaboration partners from the Vienna University of Technology and a lab in the USA, the team of Andrew Straw at the IMP developed a special device for the thermogenetic control of flies. This tool, called FlyMAD, enabled the scientists to target light or heat to specific body regions of flies in motion and to analyse the animals‘ brain cells. Compared to other techniques, FlyMAD allows highly improved temporal resolution. Using the new technology, Straw and his colleagues got new insight into the role of two neuronal cell types in courtship behavior of flies. The results of the study will be published online in Nature Methods on May 25 (doi 10.1038/nmeth.2973).
This composite image shows a laser being aimed at a walking fly using the FlyMAD system.
Matt Staley and Dan Bath, JFRC, HHMI
A male Drosophila raises a wing and ‘sings’ due to neuronal activation of song neurons.
Dan Bath, JFRC, HHMI
The fruit fly Drosophila Melanogaster represents an ideal experimental system to analyse circuit functions of brain cells (neurons). In the past, it was not possible to specifically control the activity of neurons in moving flies. Andrew Straw and his team have now overcome this barrier.
Rapid mind alteration in moving flies
Straw and his co-workers are interested in the mechanisms underlying cell circuits in the fly brain. Straw’s group concentrates on the control of complex behaviors such as courtship. In order to better understand how different neuronal circuits work together, Straw and his team developed FlyMAD (“Fly Mind Altering Device”), an apparatus using a video camera to track the flies‘ motion in a box. FlyMAD allows simultaneous observation of several flies and targeted irradiation of specific body regions of these animals. By combining the sensitive methods of optogenetics and thermogenetics, the researchers were able to specifically alter neural pathways in the fly brain with FlyMAD.
The novel technology of thermogenetics uses genetically modified, temperature-sensitive flies. Upon irradiation with infrared light and the concomitant rise in temperature to 30 degrees Celsius, these animals change certain aspects of their behavior. This does not happen at a control temperature of 24 degrees Celsius. Compared to other commonly used methods, FlyMAD applies a highly improved temporal resolution. Infrared-induced activation or repression of specific neurons and the following change in the animals‘ behavior occur within the fraction of a second.
The application of visible light to certain genetically engineered flies can also induce alterations of their brain. FlyMAD thus represents an absolute novelty for fly research, as optogenetics has been restricted to mice so far.
New insight into courtship behavior of flies
Straw and his co-workers tested FlyMAD by analyzing already known reactions of genetically modified flies to light and heat. As this proof-of-principle showed that FlyMAD worked reliably – for example by making the flies “moonwalk” - the researchers went on to use their method to tackle new scientific questions. In a thermogenetic set up, they investigated a certain type of neurons that had been linked to the flies’ courtship song in earlier experiments. Taking advantage of the better temporal resolution of FlyMAD, the scientists were able to characterize the role of two neuronal cell types in the brain in more detail. They could show that activity of one type of neurons correlated with a persistent state of courtship, whereas the other cell type was important for the action of “singing”. In the experiment this became obvious when males tried to mate with a ball of wax, circled it and started vibrating their wings after stimulation with the laser beam.
FlyMAD allows combination of optogenetics and thermogenetics
In the future, Straw wants to combine the activation of flies both by light and by heat in one experiment – that is feasible with FlyMAD. This would allow the activation or repression of different genetic elements in one fly. „FlyMAD offers the fantastic opportunity to address many of our questions. We could, for example, analyze how single neurons function in a cascade within the neuronal circuit“, Straw emphasizes the potential of his work. Ultimately, new insight into the function of the fly brain can also be applied to the network of cells in the mammalian brain.
Daniel E. Bath, John R. Stowers, Dorothea Hörmann, Andreas Poehlmann, Barry J. Dickson and Andrew D. Straw. FlyMAD: Rapid thermogenetic control of neuronal activity in freely-walking Drosophila. Nature Methods, doi 10.1038/nmeth.2973, 2014
This work was funded by a postgraduate scholarship from Canada, an ERC starting grant, a WWTF grant, an ERC Advanced Grant and by IMP core funding.
Illustrations to be used free of charge in connection with this press release can be downloaded from the IMP website: www.imp.ac.at/pressefoto-flymad
About Andrew Straw
Andrew Straw studied biology in Los Angeles, USA, and obtained his PhD in Adelaide in 2004 for his dissertation in the field of neurobiology. He worked as a Postdoc and Senior Postdoc at Caltech in Pasadena, USA, and became Senior Research Fellow there in 2010. Since 2010, Straw holds a position as Research Fellow at the IMP in Vienna where he has his own independent research group. His work is partly funded by an ERC Starting grant.
About the IMP
The Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna is a basic biomedical research institute largely sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim. With over 200 scientists from 37 nations, the IMP is committed to scientific discovery of fundamental molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying complex biological phenomena. Research areas include cell and molecular biology, neurobiology, disease mechanisms and computational biology.
Andrew Straw, PhD
Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl
Phone: +43 (0)664 8247910
Mag. Evelyn Devuyst, MAS
Phone: +43 1 79044 3626
Phone: +43 1 79730 3824
Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Funding of Collaborative Research Center developing nanomaterials for cancer immunotherapy extended
28.06.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Zeolite catalysts pave the road to decentral chemical processes Confined space increases reactivity
28.06.2017 | Technische Universität München
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine