Mechano-, and photoreceptive cells are developmentally specified via transcription factors of the atonal and achaete-scute families across taxa. While the molecular basis of phototransduction is relatively well-studied, the molecular basis of mechanotransduction is poorly understood. Hearing is a specialized form of mechanotransduction. The antennal auditory organ of Drosophila, Johnston’s organ (JO), provides a valuable system to study mechanotransduction.
During my Ph.D., we utilized the microarray technology to establish a catalogue of JO genes. Thereby we observed that well-known phototransduction genes such as rhodopsins, G-proteins, and TRP channels are also expressed in JO, fly’s auditory organ. Furthermore, mechanical measurements confirmed that many of these phototransduction genes (incl. Rh5, Rh6, arr2, inaD, glass, trp, trpl) actively contribute to hearing. Recent studies demonstrate that santa-maria and ninaE, phototransduction genes that were not identified by the screen, also affect hearing.
In general, it seems like that phototransduction genes play an important role in hearing, but also in other sensory modalities such as thermosensation.
These findings aroused my interest on the genetic parallels between different sensory modalities, especially between photo- and mechanotransduction. Currently, I am focusing on the parallels and differences between those sensory modalities - from the development to sensory processing. Therefore a variety of methods, incl. molecular biology, genetics, behavioral assays, and bioinformatics are used in my lab.