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Navigating the fruit fly brain : visual place learning in Drosophila melanogaster


How does an animal know where it is, and where it is going? While the impressive navigation abilities of ants, bees, wasps, and other insects clearly demonstrate that insects are capable of visual place learning, little is known about the underlying neural circuits that mediate these behaviors. Drosophila melanogaster is a powerful model organism for dissecting the neural circuitry underlying complex behaviors, from sensory perception to learning and memory. Flies can identify and remember visual features such as size, color, and contour orientation. However, the extent to which they use vision to navigate and recall specific locations remains unclear. In this dissertation, I will : 1) describe the development of a novel place learning assay for investigating spatial memories in Drosophila ; 2) present evidence that fruit flies are capable of forming and recalling spatial memories ; 3) demonstrate that neurons in the central complex are necessary for visual place learning and 4) show that silencing these cells specifically impairs place learning without affecting other sensory or motor systems. Together, these studies reveal distinct neuroanatomical substrates for spatial versus non-spatial learning, and substantiate Drosophila as a powerful model for the study of spatial memories

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