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Zlatic Group

Our research focuses on a fundamental property of nervous systems:  the capacity to select appropriate actions based on available sensory information and previous experience. For the nervous system to make appropriate decisions it must be able to 1) integrate information from multiple sensory modalities, 2) select one action and suppress other physically incompatible competing actions, 3) evaluate the outcomes of decisions, by comparing expected and actual outcomes and 4) drive learning when expectations differ from actual outcomes to improve future decision-making.  The overall goal of my research is to elucidate the circuit principles underlying these functions.

A major obstacle to progress in this field has been the problem of identifying underlying structural motifs with synaptic resolution, and causally relating these structural motifs to their proposed function. Behavioural choice often emerges from parallel and distributed computation across many interconnected brain areas, requiring a comprehensive analysis of structure and function across multiple areas. To overcome this obstacle we use the Drosophila larva as a model system which is ideally suited for comprehensive analyses of structure, neural activity and behaviour and establishing causal relationships between them. The Drosophila larva offers the following advantages: 1) a rich behavioural repertoire; 2) a compact, nervous system with ca. 15,000 neurons, that can be relatively rapidly imaged with modern electron microscopes to map circuits with synaptic resolution; 3) uniquely identifiable neurons that can be targeted with electrodes for intracellular recordings; 4) transparent body-wall enabling optical imaging of activity in all neurons at once; 5) a genetic toolkit that allows selective manipulation of a large fraction of neuron types to establish causal relationships between their activity and behaviour. 

Current research topics include:

  • Resolving conflict between innate and learnt valences of stimuli

  • Circuit mechanisms of sensorimotor decisions in response to noxious cues using whole-nervous system imaging of neural activity

  • Multisensory integration during navigational decisions

Some Key Publications (5 Max)

Vogelstein et al. 2014. Discovery of Brainwide Neural-Behavioral Maps via Multiscale Unsupervised Structure Learning.  Science 344: 386-392.

Ohyama et al. 2015. A multilevel multimodal circuit enhances action selection in Drosophila. Nature 520: 633-639

Jovanic et al. 2016. Competitive disinhibition mediates behavioral choice and sequences in Drosophila. Cell 167(3): 858-870.

Eichler et al. 2017. The complete connectome of a learning and memory centre in an insect brain. Nature. 548(7666):175-182. 

Full list of Publications


Contact Details

Group Leader

Dr Marta Zlatic

Department of Zoology
University of Cambridge
Downing St


Group Members