Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University
Dr. Florian Engert’s aims to understand brain function and the neural activity that underlies complex behaviors. By studying the neural circuits of zebrafish larvae, his team has been able to gain a better understanding of the relation between neuronal activity and behaviour in awake and intact animals.
His laboratory is working on a scientific strategy focused on building a complete, multi-level picture of simple neural circuits that will advance our basic understanding of brain function and offers a complete view into the neuronal activity underlying a series of relatively complex behaviors. The larval zebrafish is a small and translucent animal that exhibits a series of visually induced behaviors which can be analyzed quantitatively down to the individual motor components. Using behavioral assays in combination with various calcium indicators and two-photon microscopy Engert and his team monitor neuronal activity throughout the whole fish brain as it responds.
To understand how changes in behaviour are reflected in neuronal activity, Dr. Engert has developed several quantitative learning assays and tools for monitoring – and controlling – the neural activity in freely swimming larvae.
His research has helped identify some of the brain-wide neural circuits involved in responses to stimuli such as heat or water flow in zebrafish. These findings provide novel insight in brain function by identifying the complete neuronal circuits that underlie behaviour in a model system.