Dr. Jan M. Ache (PI)

To ensure survival in an ever-changing, complex world, animal behavior needs to be flexible and adaptive. Nervous systems have evolved to enable behavioral responses to a wide variety of sensory stimuli, but the adequate behavioral response to a given stimulus is highly context-dependent, and behavioral or internal states accordingly affect sensorimotor processing. For example, locomotion modulates responses of visual neurons, and hunger increases food-searching behavior and shifts taste preferences. Despite their ubiquitous importance, the neural mechanisms enabling context-dependent sensorimotor flexibility are not well understood. The Ache Lab for Sensorimotor Flexibility aims to discover fundamental principles of motor control, in particular with regard to sensorimotor flexibility, by leveraging the power of neurogenetics, electron microscopy-based circuit reconstruction, and in-vivo patch-clamp recordings in behaving Drosophila.

Photorealistic painting of Jan by the talented (Mar)Tina Held.

Dr. Martina Held (Postdoc)

To initiate and control adaptive, context-dependent behavior instantaneously the brain needs to process and integrate a barrage of inputs from various sources with extremely high speed and accuracy. These inputs include complex, multimodal sensory cues from the environment, such as the visual scenery, or an odor plume, as well as intrinsic feedback about the animal’s state. Intrinsic feedback is mediated, for example, by ascending neurons which provide information about the state of the locomotor system. In order to generate appropriate behavioral responses to all this information impinging on the brain simultaneously, a relatively small number of descending neurons, which elicit and control locomotion responses, receives input from numerous sensory processing neurons. So far, the neuronal pathways underlying this process and their connectivity patterns remain largely unknown.

Therefore, Martina’s main research interest lies in the neuronal translation of sensory input to behavioral output, in particular in internal feedback loops that enable state-dependent responses of the system. By combining visual stimulation with two-photon calcium imaging in behaving fruit flies and optogenetic manipulation techniques, Martina is investigating the neuronal processes in populations of neurons that are involved in multimodal integration. In addition to imaging populations of neurons, she acquires data on the single cell level via patch clamp recordings. Comparing findings from single cells to population data will help us understand the neuronal processes underlying context-dependent action selection. 

Martina holds a BSc. in Biology and an MSc. in Organismic Biology from the University of Marburg. As a PhD student, she moved to Würzburg with the lab of Keram Pfeiffer, where she worked in the Department for neuroethology. During her PhD, Martina spent 10 months at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus as a visiting scientist. She earned her PhD in neurobiology from the University of Marburg with her thesis focusing on anatomical and physiological investigations of the sky-compass system in honeybees and desert locusts.

Dr. Alex S. Chockley (Postdoc)


Alex’s main research interests lie in how animals select behaviors and movements from the entire repertoire available to them at any time. The neural pathways for all behaviors that an animal can perform are always present, yet the nervous system successfully and reliably “selects” those that are most appropriate given the context. This involves an intricate interplay between sensory information, originating both externally and internally, and the state of the animal. Alex is curious to find which of these myriad, dynamic sensory and state signals are most relevant for the elicitation of certain behaviors and how these signals influence the underlying neuronal circuitry.

A native of the United States, Alex moved to Germany to pursue his graduate education in Neuroscience after receiving his B.S. in Zoology from Michigan State University.  He earned an M.Sc. in neurosciences from the University of Bonn, after which he moved on to do a Ph.D. at the University of Cologne. His dissertation work in the Büschges Lab focused on sensorimotor integration between leg proprioceptive signals and locomotor networks. 

Undergraduate students

Alumni

Hannah Soyka (BSc Student)
Hannah is working closely with Sander on characterizing the integration of sensory stimuli by modulatory neurons using patch-clamp recordings.

Nicole Enslinger (BSc Student)
Nicole is working closely with Tina on characterizing modulatory neurons in the fly brain by combining calcium imaging experiments with optogenetic stimulation.

Federico C. Milani (Intern)
Federico is combining theoretical modeling approaches with patch-clamp recordings and is working on a Hodgkin-Huxley model of modulatory neurons in Drosophila. For our modeling efforts, we are collaboring with Sabine Fischer (CCTB, Würzburg) and Lorenzo Fontolan (HHMI, Janelia Research Campus). Feffo is now a grad student in the lab.