Lucia Prieto-Godino


Evolution of neural circuits


Our lab is interested in understanding at the genetic and cellular level how neural circuits develop, function and evolve. How does the interplay of mutations, drift and natural selection shape nervous systems and the behaviours they generate? We answer these questions harnessing the rich ecological diversity found within the Drosophila species complex, and using the olfactory system as our main model circuit.

We and others have previously shown that olfactory guided behaviours can evolve through changes in the periphery, at the level of olfactory receptors (Prieto-Godino et al. 2017 Neuron).  In addition, behavioural diversity can evolve through modification of the way sensory information is processed in the brain. However, we know little about the way central neural circuits are shaped during evolution. The aim of this project will be to study this question by examining species of Drosophila with divergent olfactory guided behaviours, yet conserved sensory periphery. The behaviour of multiple species will be analysed by using high-throughput assays. Next, we will investigate how olfactory inputs are differentially processed by using genetically encoded tools to perform circuit tracing and functional imaging of the underlying neural networks in each species. Eventually, we will aim at understanding the genetic basis of these changes.

Other interest of the lab resides on understanding the contribution of neuron-specific read-through to neuronal transcriptomic diversification. We previously found that some pseudogenes containing premature stop codons, and thus supposedly non-functional, are expressed and function thanks to neuron-specific read-through of their stop codon (Prieto-Godino et al. 2016 Nature). This project will aim at understanding the generality of this phenomenon, the mechanisms of the tissue-specificity, and its consequences for evolution and diseases.

These are examples of the sorts of project that may be available in this research group. The precise project will be decided on consultation with the supervisor.

1. Prieto-Godino, L. L., Rytz, R., Cruchet, S., Bargeton, B., Abuin, L., Silbering, A. F., Ruta, V., Dal Peraro, M. and Benton, R. (2017)
Evolution of acid-sensing olfactory circuits in Drosophilids.
Neuron  93: 661-676.e666. PubMed abstract 28111079

2. Prieto-Godino, L. L., Rytz, R., Bargeton, B., Abuin, L., Arguello, J. R., Dal Peraro, M. and Benton, R. (2016)
Olfactory receptor pseudo-pseudogenes.
Nature  539: 93-97. PubMed abstract 27776356