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Department of Zoology



We investigate the relation between neuronal circuits and behaviour with an emphasis on the diversification of circuits and the role of genes in specifying different neuronal networks and their assembly during development. We use state of the art techniques of Drosophila neurogenetics and combine it with the study of behaviour to understand how Hox genes orchestrate the diversification of motor circuits during nervous system development. We also use a multidisciplinary approach, working with mathematicians, physicists and ecologists, to understand how neuronal activity generates specific patterns of movements, with the idea that our models will provide valuable information about the neuronal characteristics of the circuits underlying specialised behaviours.



Hox Genes and the Diversification of Neuronal Networks:

Specialized patterns of movements such as chewing, crawling and turning are characteristic of different locations along the body axis and they are generated by specific neuronal circuits, which are distributed along the axis of the central nervous system (Berni et al. 2012; Berni 2015). We investigate the genetic regulation of the diversification of neural circuits along the body axis during embryonic development. Our research focuses on the nature of regional differences within the central nervous system, and how during development the Hox genes act to determine the formation of distinct, specialised neuronal networks that generate a diverse behavioural repertoire at different levels of the body axis. We also investigate what further developmental mechanisms generate the necessary integration across these different networks that allows for coordinated patterns of output.


A Mathematical Model for Exploratory Behaviour:

To understand how neuronal activity generates the exploratory behavior of the larva we have been working with Dr. Julijana Gjorgjieva and have designed a mathematical model for the circuit underlying crawls (Gjorgjieva et al. 2013). Using our new data of neuronal morphology and data of activity, we are now working on a model that will include the components and dynamics which generate crawls and turns. The model will also include frequency of transition between crawls and turns that are fundamental to generate the exploratory strategy. 


Key publications: 
  • J Berni (2015). Genetic dissection of a regionally differentiated network for exploratory behavior in Drosophila larvae. Current Biology, 25(10):1319-26.
  • J Gjorgjieva, J Berni, JF Evers, S Eglen (2013). Neural Circuits for Peristaltic Wave Propagation in Crawling Drosophila Larvae: Analysis and Modeling. Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, 7(art.4):1-19
  • Berni J, Pulver SR, Griffith LC and Bate M. (2012). Autonomous circuit for substrate exploration in freely moving Drosophila larva. Current Biology, 22:1861-1870
  • Depetris-Chauvin A*, Berni J*, Aranovich EJ*, Muraro NI, Beckwith EJ, Ceriani MF. (2011). Adult-specific electrical silencing of pacemaker neurons uncouples molecular clock from circadian outputs. Current Biology, 21(21):1783-93. *equal contribution


Other publications: 
  • Picao-Osorio, J, Johnston, J., Landgraf, M., Berni, J. and Alonso, C.R. (2015). microRNA encoded behavior in DrosophilaScience 350:815-20 (published online 22 October 2015)
  • Pulver SR, Bayley TG, Taylor AL, Berni J, Bate M, Hedwig B. (2015). Imaging fictive locomotor patterns in larval DrosophilaJournal of Neurophysiology, August 26.
  • Pulver SR and Berni J. (2012). The fundamentals of flying: simple and inexpensive strategies for employing Drosophila genetics in neuroscience teaching laboratories. The Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education (JUNE), Fall 2012, 11(1):A139-A148
  • Berni J, Mudal A, Pulver SR. (2010). Using the warmth-gated ion channel TRPA1 to study the neural basis of behavior in Drosophila. The Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education (JUNE), Spring, 9(1):A5-A14
  • Fernández MP, Berni J, Ceriani MF. (2008). Circadian remodeling of neuronal circuits involved in rhythmic behavior. PLOS Biology, 6(3):e69.
  • Rezával C, Berni J, Gorostiza EA, Werbajh S, Fagilde MM, Fernández MP, Beckwith EJ, Aranovich EJ, Sabio y García CA, Ceriani MF. (2008). A functional misexpression screen uncovers a role for enabled in progressive neurodegeneration. PLOS One, 3(10):e3332.
  • Berni J, Beckwith EJ, Fernández MP, Ceriani MF. (2008). A roundabout mutation alters the pace of the circadian Clock in Drosophila. European Journal of neuroscience, 27(2): 396-407. 
Sir Henry Dale Fellow

Contact Details

Accepting applications for PhD students.


Person keywords: 
Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
Drosophila genetics