Drosophila as a model system to study the effects of glucose on learning and memory
Supervisor: Dr Alan Shirras
There is increasing evidence that modest increases in circulating blood glucose concentrations regulate several neuro-cognitive functions, in particular learning and memory. Moreover, deficits in learning and memory have been described in diabetic individuals and individuals with insulin resistance. Preliminary evidence also suggests that glucoregulatory mechanisms may contribute to the memory impairments in Alzheimer's (AD) patients.
The powerful genetic tools available for Drosophila, coupled with simple, reproducible learning paradigms has allowed the identification of genes and regions of the brain responsible for cognitive functions and has revealed remarkable similarities with learning and memory in humans. The proposed project will measure the effects of diet on cognitive function in adult flies using a learning assay based on suppression of phototactic behaviour in response to a noxious stimulus. The first part of the project will determine whether altered levels of glucose in the diet affect learning. Secondly, learning and memory will be investigated in flies mutant for components of the insulin signalling pathway. The third component of the project will examine the effects of glucose on learning and memory in a Drosophila model of Alzheimer's disease.
The proposed research aims to further our understanding of normal learning and memory processes and of risk factors for dementia and AD. If current possibilities regarding the major metabolic components of the memory impairments observed in ageing are supported, simple dietary and lifestyle changes may aid in the retardation or prevention of such memory impairments - something of increasing concern to most 'ageing' societies.