Rudy Behnia, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Columbia University, Zuckerman Mind Brain and Behavior Institute
3227 Broadway, Quad 8A
Jerome L. Greene Science Center
City, State, Zip
New York, NY 10027
[email protected]
Research Field
Award Year


The Behnia lab will explore how fruit flies fine-tune their visual representations of the world as they navigate their surroundings. Animals are constantly bombarded with visual information that must be processed rapidly to guide their behavior. For fruit flies, this assessment includes detecting changes in their visual scene to maintain their heading as they transition between flying, walking, and standing still—a problem so complex that 70 percent of their brains are dedicated to processing visual information. As a postdoctoral fellow, I mapped the visual circuits that flies use to detect and analyze motion. Now, using a suite of state-of-the-art techniques in neural imaging, genetics, and computational modeling, combined with novel methods for monitoring the activity of single cells throughout the brains of awake animals, our group will determine how flies shift the sensitivity of this motion-sensing system to accommodate changes in their speed of locomotion. In preliminary studies, we discovered that a neurochemical released during locomotion causes one type of neuron in the motion-detection system to respond more rapidly to visual stimuli. We will determine how boosting the concentrations of this chemical influences flies’ behavior as they transition from standing to walking, allowing them to respond to visual information that results from moving at faster speeds. This work could lead to treatment of neurological disorders in which visual processing is impaired, as well as disorders that result from imbalances in the chemicals that modulate nervous system function.

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