Neurobiology and Genetics

Martina Held

Research Interest

To initiate and control adaptive, context-dependent behavior instantaneously the brain needs to process and integrate a barrage of inputs from various sources with extremely high speed and accuracy. These inputs include complex, multimodal sensory cues from the environment, such as the visual scenery, or an odor plume, as well as intrinsic feedback about the animal’s state. Intrinsic feedback is mediated, for example, by ascending neurons which provide information about the state of the locomotor system. In order to generate appropriate behavioral responses to all this information impinging on the brain simultaneously, a relatively small number of descending neurons, which elicit and control locomotion responses, receives input from numerous sensory processing neurons. So far, the neuronal pathways underlying this process and their connectivity patterns remain largely unknown.

Therefore, Martina’s main research interest lies in the neuronal translation of sensory input to behavioral output, in particular in internal feedback loops that enable state-dependent responses of the system. By combining visual stimulation with two-photon calcium imaging in behaving fruit flies and optogenetic manipulation techniques, Martina is investigating the neuronal processes in populations of neurons that are involved in multimodal integration. In addition to imaging populations of neurons, she acquires data on the single cell level via patch clamp recordings. Comparing findings from single cells to population data will help us understand the neuronal processes underlying context-dependent action selection.

Martina holds a BSc. in Biology and an MSc. in Organismic Biology from the University of Marburg. As a PhD student, she moved to Würzburg with the lab of Keram Pfeiffer, where she worked in the Department for neuroethology. During her PhD, Martina spent 10 months at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus as a visiting scientist. She earned her PhD in neurobiology from the University of Marburg with her thesis focusing on anatomical and physiological investigations of the sky-compass system in honeybees and desert locusts.

Awards & Fundings