Neural Computation and Behavior

The “Neural Computation and Behavior” works on how acoustic communication signals are processed to inform behavior. Acoustic communication is widespread in the animal kingdom - yet it’s neural basis is only poorly understood. Like songbirds or crickets - fruit flies also produce mating songs during courtship. We use high-throughput behavioral assays and computer vision to precisely quantify how song influences behavior on multiple time scales – from changes in locomotion in response to the song over tens of milliseconds to a mating decision based on song accumulated over several minutes of courtship. We then exploit the genetic toolbox available in Drosophila to identify the neural substrates of these behaviors: Using optogenetics, we activate or inactivate individual neurons in the fly brain during courtship interactions – quantitative models of the behavior then allow us to identify the time scales and components of the behavior controlled by these neurons. Having found individual neurons involved in processing song, we then use electrophysiology and two-photon Calcium imaging to interrogate the dynamical neural representations of song to determine how song is encoded in the brain and how these neural codes give rise to behavior.

Selected recent publications:

  • David Deutsch, Jan Clemens (co-first author), Stephan Thiberge, Georgia Guan, and Mala Murthy Shared song object detector neurons in Drosophila male and female brains drive divergent, sex-specific behaviors 2019, Current Biology, 23:3200-3215

  • Jan Clemens, Philip Coen (co-first author), Frederic A. Roemschied (co-first author), Talmo Pereira, David Mazumder, Diego Pacheco, and Mala Murthy Discovery of a new song mode in Drosophila reveals hidden structure in the sensory and neural drivers of behavior 2018, Current Biology, 28:2400–2412

  • Jan Clemens, Nofar Ozeri, Mala Murthy Fast intensity adaptation enhances the encoding of sound in Drosophila 2018, Nature Communications, 9:134

  • Jan Clemens, Cyrille Girardin (co-first), Philip Coen, Georgia Guan, Barry Dickson, Mala Murthy Connecting neural codes with behavior in the auditory system of Drosophila 2015, Neuron, 87(6):1332-1343

  • Jan Clemens, Stefanie Krämer (co-first), Bernhard Ronacher Asymmetrical integration of evidence during courtship decisions in grasshoppers 2014, PNAS, 111(46):16562–16567

Neuronale Grundlagen der akustischen Kommunikation in Drosophila wird gefördert von der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) unter der Projektnummer 329518246


The project NeuSoSen (Neural Computations Underlying Social Behavior in Complex Sensory Environments) has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 851210)