Study discovers simple rules underlying complex brain development in fly

How does brain circuitry organize itself during development? In at least one case—the seemingly complex visual system of the fruit fly, which connects its 800-facet compound eyes to its brain—the answer lies in just three simple rules.

The discovery, which unravels a trick of neural wiring that had stumped neuroscientists for decades, is described in a new paper senior-co-authored by UCSF School of Pharmacy faculty members Steven Altschuler, PhD, and Lani Wu, PhD, and Peter Robin Hiesinger, PhD, a faculty member with Freie Universität Berlin. The paper, “The Developmental Rules of Neural Superposition in Drosophila,” is available online in advance of its print publication in the July 2 issue of the journal Cell.

The algorithms were based on a combination of high-resolution time-lapse imaging of the developing brains of pupal fruit flies (aka the model organisms, Drosophila melanogaster) by the paper’s Germany-based co-authors and data-driven computational modeling by the U.S.-based co-authors.

This discovery “gives us hope that maybe one day we can really understand other complex biological systems in terms of simple rules,” said Wu. She and Altschuler are faculty members in the School’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry.


Three Simple Rules Govern Complex Brain Circuit in Fly

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy is a premier graduate-level academic organization dedicated to improving health through precise therapeutics. It succeeds through innovative research, by educating PharmD health professional and PhD science students, and by caring for the therapeutics needs of patients while exploring innovative new models of patient care. The School was founded in 1872 as the first pharmacy school in the American West. It is an integral part of UC San Francisco, a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide.