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Misha Ahrens uses zebrafish to study how the brain learns and controls behavior.
Our research goal is to understand, on the whole-brain but single cell level, how entire neural circuits generate adaptable behavior and how plasticity reorganizes the functional properties of these circuits to implement learned changes in behavior.
We use advances in microscopy, genetics and virtual reality to study the neural basis of adaptive behaviors. A general goal of the lab is to address the question: Are neural circuits hard-wired to generate a fixed pattern of behavior in response to a stimulus? In most cases, the answer is no — animals continuously adapt their behavior to changing environments. This includes basic changes in the environment, such as luminosity, and changes in the reward structure as well as changes in the physics of the body and the environment. This adaptability is the key to the successful function of the central nervous system in driving behavior. How is this continuous learning and adaptation implemented on the circuit level? How does the function of neural networks change when an animal is confronted with a change in the environment, and by what mechanism is this mediated? How does information get transmitted across brain regions, and how does this change when the fish adapts to new situations? We aim to tackle these questions on the whole-brain, single-cell level for multiple behaviors, using a combination of imaging, and perturbing, neuronal activity during fictive virtual-reality behavior.