Sensory neuroscience


Fig 1. Head of a female malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae with labelled olfactory neurons.

The overall aim of my research is to understand how information about the environment is processed in the brain, and how it leads to a behavioural response. Parameters of the environment are monitored by optical, chemical and mechanical sensors that are located in sensory neurons. Signals from the sensory neurons are processed in the brain and integrated with the information about the internal state of the animal to produce the most appropriate behavioural output.

The understanding of sensory processing is far from complete at the moment. Sensory systems (vision, hearing, olfaction, gustation, mechanosensation) are likely to employ same general principles to single out relevant signals and to code for their intensity, duration and quality. I have found that insects adjust their behaviour to facilitate acquisition of relevant visual information (Riabinina et al, 2014, JEB), which, together with early processing in the visual system (Riabinina & Philippides, 2009, JEB), is essential given the limited number of features the insects can memorise (Riabinina et al, 2011, JEB).


Fig 2. Hungry flies are attracted to the smell of apple cider vinegar (top left corner).

Acquisition of sensory information is also facilitated by tuning sensory receptors to the relevant signals  – I have discovered an example of this in the auditory system of fruit flies Drosophila (Riabinina et al, 2011, Curr Biol). Integration of signals from different sensory modalities can happen early during neuronal processing – e.g. in mosquitoes Anopheles gambiae olfactory sensory neurons project to the “gustatory” part of the brain, implying early integration of these chemical senses (Riabinina et al, 2016, Nat Comm).

Currently, I use Drosophila and Anopheles gambiae to study mechanisms of olfactory processing. My research benefits greatly from genetic tools that are available for these insects (see below).

Development of genetic tools

I am interested in developing novel genetic tools that can facilitate neuroscience research in fruit flies Drosophila and malaria mosquitoes Anopheles gambiae. I have developed the second generation of Q-system in Drosophila (Riabinina et al, 2015, Nature Methods; Riabinina and Potter, 2016, In Drosophila: Methods and Protocols), and have introduced the Q-system into A. gambiae by genetically labelling olfactory receptor neurons of the mosquitoes (Riabinina et al, 2016, Nat Comm).

I am currently working on further expanding and refining the Q-system toolkit both in flies and in mosquitoes.


Fig 3. Imaginal discs of Drosophila, labelled by the Q-system.


Research funding