Project Details

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Dr Carolina Rezaval

Project area or title

Serotoninergic control of risk taking


Risk assessment is not only an integral part of life but is also critical for survival and can be disrupted in psychiatric and neurological diseases. Gaining a comprehensive understanding of risk-based decision-making therefore holds important economic, societal, and medical benefits. However, the genetic and neural basis of risk-taking and how dysfunction may arise remains unclear.

This project aims to address this challenge by leveraging a novel risk-taking assay in the Drosophila model. With its powerful genetics, Drosophila serves as an excellent platform for investigating brain function and associated pathologies, from a molecular, subcellular, and circuit level to disease-relevant behaviour. Drosophila’s exceptional efficiency, coupled with its grossly conserved genetic and neurobiology, has yielded valuable insights into mental health disorders, including Intellectual Disability and Autism Spectrum Disorders (Coll-Tané et al., Dis Model Mech. 2019, Tian et al., Neurosci Bull. 2017).

Capitalising on a novel assay, and state-of-the-art genetic tools to manipulate and monitor neural function in Drosophila, this project aims to mechanistically dissect how motivational drives cues guide goal-directed risk-taking. By combining optogenetics with in-vivo imaging of neural activity, synaptic tracing tools and the brain connectome, we will characterise the neural circuits involved in context-dependent risk-taking. Following this, we will assess the impact of serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to depression in humans, on risk-taking and its associated neural circuits. By unravelling how the brain assesses risks at a molecular, cellular, and neural circuit level, we aim to unveil fundamental principles of risk-taking that may be conserved across species.


Common Mental Health (covering anxiety, depression)


University of Birmingham

Specific Project Eligibility