- Special thanks to Dr. Liu Li at Institute of Biophysics Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and Dr. Bruce Baker at Janelia Research Campus of Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)!!!
Neural control of behavioral prioritization
Nervous systems must not only generate specific adaptive behaviors, such as reproduction, sleep, foraging, feeding, aggression, grooming, etc., but also must select a single behavior for execution at any given time. This requires neural mechanisms for action selection that are sensitive both to internal physiological states and to external environmental conditions.
Everyone experiences the difficulties of “multi-tasking”: performing more than one action at the same time. This is because our nervous system has evolved mechanisms for enforcing exclusivity of incompatible behaviors, presumably to ensure that each individual behavior is performed effectively, efficiently, and without interference. For example, it is important that during sleep other behaviors—such as sex—are suppressed, and while performing waking behaviors sleep is suppressed.
We are interested in how animals choose among sleep, feeding, fighting or sexual behaviors using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. There are many hypothesis for how different behavioral modules are interacted and selected, and below are two appealing ones: first, a higher-level executive system could exert top-down control on the modules driving distinct behaviors (central selection); alternatively, modules driving distinct behaviors could directly influence one another through reciprocal control (distributed) (Redgrave, P., Prescott, T. J. & Gurney, K, 1999, The basal ganglia: a vertebrate solution to the selection problem? Neuroscience 89, 1009-1023)
We have an initial study on this fundamental question using sleep and sexual behaviors as models, and identified neural substrates and genes that are crucial for the interaction between sleep and sexual behaviors, and such interaction is sexually dimorphic. Check out our paper at [Chen et al., Nature communications, 2017].
Nature vs. nurture: how animal behaviors are generated
Drosophila male courtship is an innate behavior and controlled by the fruitless gene