2024 Phillip A. Sharp Lecture in Neural Circuits; Vanessa Ruta

Monday, May 20, 2024 at 4:00pm to 6:00pm

Building 46, Singleton Auditorium
43 VASSAR ST, Cambridge, MA 02139

The Phillip A. Sharp Lecture in Neural Circuits is an annual lecture in honor of Phillip Sharp, who served as founding director of McGovern Institute from 2000-2004. 

Title:  Circuit Mechanisms for Flexible and Adaptive Behaviors

Olfactory systems are continuously barraged with odors, varying in their structure, physicochemical properties, and concentration. Detecting and making sense of such a complex chemical landscape poses a distinct challenge to the fundamental flexibility of the nervous system. We have has been using olfaction as a window into the mechanisms of adaptive behavior, leveraging the concise olfactory circuits of Drosophila to reveal how animals can detect, perceive, and navigate the vast chemical world.  In recent work, we developed a closed-loop olfactory paradigm that allows head-fixed Drosophila to navigate arbitrary chemical landscapes, shedding light on the basic neural and behavioral algorithms of olfactory plume navigation.  By combining functional imaging, precise perturbations of neural activity and behavioral modeling, we show that plume navigation represents a spatial navigation task in which animals integrate memories of their past olfactory encounters with their current sense of space to shape their navigational strategies.

Biography: Vanessa Ruta is the Gabrielle H. Reem and Herbert J. Kayden Professor at the Rockefeller University where her lab aims to elucidate how nervous systems are shaped by either individual experience or evolutionary selection to give rise to flexible variations in behavior.  By applying a broad multidisciplinary toolkit to the relatively simple neural circuits of the fly, they have begun to gain mechanistic insight into how behaviors can be flexibly modified over different timescales at the level of synaptic, cellular, and circuit motifs. Dr. Ruta received a B.A. in chemistry from Hunter College of CUNY and a Ph.D. from The Rockefeller University, where she worked with Rod MacKinnon. After conducting postdoctoral research in Richard Axel’s lab at Columbia University, she returned to Rockefeller University to start her own group in 2011. Dr. Ruta was named a MacArthur Fellow, a McKnight Scholar, a Pew Biomedical Scholar, and a Simons Foundation Investigator. Dr. Ruta was appointed as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator in 2021. 

This talk will be followed by a reception in the 3rd floor atrium with appetizers and drinks. 


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neuroscience, Brain Science, bcs, McGovernMIT, neurosciencemit, Brain Talk

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