Isabella Balles (MSc student)

Our brain can be viewed as a large-scale network consisting of smaller, interconnected neural circuits. These circuits operate through complex interactions to process signals, such as environmental cues and internal feedback. The primary connections between such networks consist of direct, synaptic interactions between individual neurons. In addition, however, every neuron is subject to modulation via so called neuromodulators, which connect neural networks both locally and over great distances. This modulation can strengthen or weaken synaptic connections and therefore allows connectivity changes within the system. The ability of neural networks to process multiple signals, whether they are synaptic or modulatory, permits flexibility in the nervous system, enabling adaption to ever-changing circumstances.

To gain deeper insight into how this complex though flexible system functions, we need to further our understanding of the multiple layers shaping neural interactions. With its powerful genetic toolkit, the model organism Drosophila melanogaster can be exploited to study synaptic connectivity. This may be achieved by tracing individual neurons and synapses to establish a connectome. However, to fully understand the dynamics and connectivity of neural networks, considering the modulation of neural circuits is equally important. For this reason, Isabella focuses on the modulation of neurosecretory cells in Drosophila melanogaster and how their activity patterns are influenced by other neuromodulators. To this end, Isabella is combining optogenetic tools with calcium imaging and whole-cell patch-clamp recordings. Comparing findings on a single-cell level measured via patch-clamp recording to the populational level dynamics assessed via calcium imaging will contribute to a better understanding of reciprocal modulation as well as systemic neuromodulation.

Isabella holds a B.Sc. in Biotechnology from the Technical University of Berlin, where she focused on addiction behavior in Drosophila during her Bachelor’s Thesis in David Owald’s Lab. Now, she is pursuing her Master’s degree in the Fast Track Program FOKUS Life Sciences at the University of Würzburg, and will complete her Master’s Thesis in the Ache Lab.


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