Neurological basis of aberrant social behaviors associated with NF1 mutations in the drosophila melanogaster gustatory pathway




Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience

Project Summary

I spent my summer working at the Kayser laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania. I was investigating a potential neural basis for some of the behavioral patterns and abnormalities that we see in people with autism spectrum disorders. The summer started off with my mentor spending a considerable amount of time really teaching me the tools that I would need to become an independent researcher in the study of Drosophila melanogaster otherwise known as the fruit fly. She taught me how to identify certain markers on the flies that we use as tools to identify if the fly has the correct genetic information that we want it to have, she taught me how to properly dissect and handle fly brains for imaging purposes, and she taught me how to collect and identify the flies that we wanted to work with for our experiment. Moving on the experiment that we ran was a study on the sensory deficits that flies with a mutation called neurofibromatosis have. This mutation has been shown in humans to have a higher likelihood of also possessing ASD symptoms. In flies however this mutation results in two things, one is poor social behavior. The flies with the neurofibromatosis mutation are unusually aggressive and are unable to recognize the sex of other flies. This results in abnormal courtship rituals when the flies are presented with either male or female flies. To test the origin of thiss behavior we looked at how the flies actually mate. Gustatory (taste) information is incredibly important to fly communication and recognition. We tested the function of the gustatory pathway in these flies and found them lacking. These NF1 mutant flies were unable to taste aversive tastants. Bitter chemicals that should have been repulsive to the flies showed little effect on the mutant flies. Knowing this we were able to conclude that the NF1 mutant flies have a sensory problem which leads to their abnormal social behavior.