CRCNS21 Encoding reward expectation in Drosophilia

Project: Research project

Project Details


The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has been a valuable model for investigating the genetic and neural bases that underlie learning and memory. Early and most current studies use basic behavior conditioning protocols to study learning in controlled laboratory settings. More recently, the ability to transgenically manipulate many of the brain neurons in the fruit fly with exquisite specificity, and the recent knowledge
of the synaptic connectome of the fruit fly brain, makes these animals almost unique as a comprehensive model for studies of learning, memory and motivated behavior. In fact, the connectome has revealed many types of new connections that had until now been overlooked. Within this context, the thesis of this proposal is that studies of learning and memory will be greatly enhanced by using more sophisticated means for
evaluating memory representations, such as have been developed in vertebrates, and combining those studies with information from the connectome guided by computational modelling. We propose to push beyond the boundaries of existing conditioning protocols for fruit flies to investigate more complex memory
representations. In particular, we will investigate the function of reinforcement pathways in relation to the absence of expected reinforcement. More specifically, we propose a series of experiments designed to investigate the memory representations in fruit flies when an expected consequence of a Conditioned Stimulus (CS) fails to occur. Although studies have evaluated how this failure can establish extinction memory for the CS, our studies will go beyond studying extinction. Specifically, we predict that in
Drosophila when a CS is associated with a failed expectation of an appetitive food reinforcement it will acquire aversive value, and vice versa for a failed expectation of an aversive reinforcer. We combine these studies with manipulations of reinforcement pathways in the CNS inspired from the connectome, iteratively knitted in with established computational models.

Intellectual merit
The concept of reinforcement expectation and incentive contrast have been influential in the development of studies of associative learning in mammals. These questions are particularly challenging to answer in vertebrates because they require exquisite cellular, temporal, and genetic specificity of experimental manipulations. The recent development of work with identified neurons and their connectomes makes the larval and adult fly brains ripe as models for pushing our understanding of neural bases for these higher-order conditioning phenomena.

Broader impacts
Public health: These analyses and the conceptual framework of prediction error processing underlying them have a profound impact on our understanding of reinforcement-related behavior in humans, including monetary rewards and the mnemonic consequences of traumatic experiences, and for pathologies of the
dopamine reinforcement system.

Educational: This project will provide interdisciplinary training for postdoctoral researchers, Ph.D. and undergraduate students. The PIs will act as co-supervisors or mentors of students working in the different labs via face-to-face and internet-based technologies. We will also work with ASUs award-winning AskA-Biologist program. This is an online science program designed to enrich the learning experiences of
students of all ages and to provide classroom material for use by K-12 teachers. We will develop an extension of a game developed under a prior NSF award, and the new game will include modules to teach K-12 students about how insects learn. We will also integrate into the AAB site a program developed by a collaborator (B Gerber) at the Leibniz Institut fr Neurobiologie, Magdeburg, and now in use in schools in
Germany, to teach K-12 students how to train animals using the fruit fly larval learning paradigm. Underrepresented groups: All PIs will work with their university offices of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity for reaching underrepresented students.
Effective start/end date8/1/219/30/24


  • US Department of Energy (DOE): $245,131.00


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