Bodian Seminar: .
Andrew Gordus, Ph.D
Department of Biology
Johns Hopkins University
“The Neuronal Sources of Variable & Structured Behaviors”
Our response to the world is not simply the sum of what our sensory organs detect, but also how our brain chooses to represent these observations, and act upon them. Unlike simple reflexes, the majority of our behaviors are governed by a highly variable internal representation of the external world. In short, we are always thinking. Therefore, a significant challenge with predicting behavior is that our perception of the world is dynamic, rendering many behaviors unpredictable. Understanding the functional underpinnings for how internal dynamics arise in complex brains is limited. However, dynamic internal states also influence perception and behavior in simple animals such as Caenorhabditis elegans. It is currently the only organism where we have a detailed map of every neuron and synapse, as well as a detailed cellular map of neurotransmitters and a variety of other neuromodulators. Using a variety of genetic and optogenetic tools at our disposal, we can simultaneously manipulate and monitor the activity of every neuron in the brain. This exquisite ability to manipulate specific neurons in a fully mapped brain makes C. elegans an ideal organism to understand the complexity of resting state dynamics in a reduced system. Our group’s goal is to understand how neuronal circuits generate resting state dynamics on different timescales, and how these states influence perception and behavior. Understanding this process will provide a foundation for understanding the learning process, and the principles that govern how behavioral novelty arises and adapts to the environment.