Prestigious Wellcome Trust award for neural circuits pioneer

05 June 2015

© Gero Miesenboeck

Professor Gero Miesenböck, Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Mind and Machine, has received a highly prestigious Wellcome Trust Investigator Award.

Investigator Awards provide funding for scientists who have an excellent track record and are in an established academic post. They offer the flexibility and time to enable them to tackle the most important questions in their field.

Professor Miesenböck's work aims to generate new insights into behaviours that unfold over time, such as movement, navigation, communication, and decision-making. These behaviours must be based on orderly sequences of nerve cell activity, but how the brain generates such sequences is largely unknown.

The team led by Professor Miesenböck will explore this fundamental problem in fruit flies, which (like humans and higher animals) take time before committing to a choice. The amount of time taken varies with the difficulty of the decision and is heavily influenced by a small group of approximately 200 nerve cells in the fly’s central brain.

These 200 cells are distinguished by the presence of FoxP, a genetic regulator molecule whose human versions are important determinants of cognitive ability. The team will study how the activity of the FoxP-containing nerve cells in the fly changes as a decision progresses toward commitment, identify the biophysical principles and neuronal connections that support these evolving activity patterns, and investigate the molecular and cellular mechanisms through which FoxP acts.