Frederic Roemschied (Alumni Lecture Series): A novel framework for social learning in Drosophila

European Neuroscience Institute, Göttingen

We invite to our next alumni lecture series.  Frederic Roemschied, Group Leader at the European Neuroscience Institute in Göttingen and right before him Katharina Wilmes, PostDoc at the Universität Bern, Switzerland, will give a lecture and talk shortly about their career paths.

After the talks we will organize a social with pizza and beer.

Mammals, birds, and insects learn from social experience to increase their social status, reproductive success, and chances of survival. Inability to adjust to social experience (as in autism spectrum disorder) can severely impair life in a social world. Yet, we do not fully understand how social experience shapes behavioral strategies through learning, because in most systems we lack i) tools to perturb social interactions, and ii) a general framework to measure behavioral strategies and their dependence on social experience. We aimed at closing both gaps: we first developed an analytical framework that quantitates social experience and behavioral strategies by decomposing data from automated pose estimation in freely behaving animals into a set of base experiences and base strategies. We then applied this framework to show that the innate courtship strategy of male Drosophila is shaped by past social experience. Specifically, we developed a novel assay for social learning, comprising two experiments: in a first training experiment, we used closed-loop optogenetics to control female feedback to male courtship song, to systematically perturb male social experience around the time of song. In a subsequent test experiment, we applied our analytical framework to evaluate the trained males’ song strategies towards females providing unperturbed feedback. Compared to controls, males that had experienced perturbed feedback during training used distinct song strategies during testing, suggesting that the innate courtship strategy can be shaped through learning from social experience. Known learning mutants and males with genetically downregulated dopamine receptor expression lacked social learning in our assay, corroborating our findings. These results demonstrate a surprising flexibility of fly courtship behavior, and they open the door for a circuit-level understanding of this type of social learning. Our analytical framework is applicable in any system to quantitate behavioral strategies and their dependence on social experience.


Guests are welcome!


Organized by

Margret Franke/Darko Komnenic

This alumni lecture series is financially supported by our Einstein Foundation Doctoral Program Computational Neuroscience.

Location: BCCN Berlin, Philippstr. 13 Haus 6, 10115 Berlin - lecture hall 9

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