Dr Gillies Vanwalleghem
Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Queensland
As a transparent animal and with powerful light-based tools to monitor the brain, the larval zebrafish offers a perfect window into functioning neural circuits. We imaged the whole brain of zebrafish as they habituate to repeated looming stimuli. Habituation is a form of learning during which animals stop responding to repetitive stimuli, and deficits in habituation are characteristics of several psychiatric disorders. To better model the differences between wild-type and fmr1 fish, we applied graph theory to the circuits underlying this habituation. This showed fmr1 mutants have a shift towards sustained premotor activity, leading to slower behavioral habituation.
I did my PhD under in Brussels working on an African parasite, Trypanosoma brucei. We showed how the parasite uses its adenylate cyclases to “poison” the host immune system and how primates have evolved a defence that can trigger programmed cell death in the parasite. After receiving an EMBO long-term fellowship I joined Ethan Scott in UQ to work on brain-wide calcium imaging of larval zebrafish. There I have been working on sensory processing from audition, to vision or simulated vestibular stimuli using optical trapping. We are currently establishing a screening pipeline for sensory deficits in autism models for zebrafish.