Don't miss our weekly PhD newsletter | Sign up now Don't miss our weekly PhD newsletter | Sign up now

  How does the brain make decisions when faced with conflicting options?

   School of Biosciences

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr Carolina Rezaval  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Animals engage in daily activities that are essential for survival and reproduction, such as feeding, mating or fighting for resources. How does an animal prioritise one behaviour over others? We know that cues conveying external information (e.g., threats from other animals, access to food) and internal state (e.g., fear, hunger, tiredness) guide behavioural choices. However, exactly how action-selection occurs in the brain remains unknown.

This research proposal aims to understand how the brain makes decisions when faced with conflicting options using the fruit fly model, Drosophila melanogaster. Fruit flies exhibit complex behaviours that are controlled by a relatively small brain. Furthermore, sophisticated genetic tools are available which facilitate the control of individual neurons with temporal resolution, enabling us to probe the circuitry underlying behaviour. Using Drosophila as a model system provides a unique opportunity to address fundamental aspects of action- selection: how does the brain integrate information from the outside world and internal state to select the most appropriate action for each situation? What neurons and mechanisms underlie these behavioural decisions?

Techniques: The PhD student will use a range of cutting-edge techniques in neuroscience, including optogenetics, two-photon microscopy to measure neural activity in the brain of live animals, high-resolution behavioural assays, confocal microscopy, molecular biology (e.g., CRISPR) and genetics. To record neural activity in behaving flies, we will collaborate with research groups at Oxford University and Germany.

Significance: How the brain selects appropriate actions is a fascinating question that remains unknown. Choosing appropriate actions is not only crucial for our life but can, collectively, influence the course of our society. Furthermore, action-selection processes are impaired in addiction and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Understanding how different neurons contribute to optimal action-selection in a genetically tractable experimental system will help us advance our knowledge of how the brain works, and what goes wrong in disease.

For information about our research in our laboratory, please visit our lab webpage:

Check out our latest publications and media coverage here:

Listen to a Podcast where Dr Rezaval discusses the science we do in the lab:

Informal enquiries about the post should be directed to Dr Carolina Rezaval

Funding notes:

Links to the relevant MIBTP pages are below:

You can apply for this prestigious 4 year BBSRC-fully funded doctoral fellowship (MIBTP) here:

Select our PhD project ’How does the brain make decisions when faced with conflicting options? from here:

Select Dr Carolina Rezaval as supervisor.

For more details on the project, informal enquiries and/or advice on making your application, please contact Dr Carolina Rezaval.

Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year BBSRC-fully funded doctoral fellowship. Call open to home, European and international students.


1- Cheriyamkunnel SJ, Rose S, Jacob PF, Blackburn LA, Glasgow S, Moorse J, Winstanley M, Moynihan PJ, Waddell S, Rezaval C. A neuronal mechanism controlling the choice between feeding and sexual behaviors in Drosophila. Curr Biol. 2021 Oct 11;31(19):4231-4245.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.07.029. Epub 2021 Aug 5. PMID: 34358444.
2- Barajas-Azpeleta R, Tastekin I, Ribeiro C. Neuroscience: How the brain prioritizes behaviors. Curr Biol. 2021 Oct 11;31(19):R1125-R1127. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.08.048. PMID: 34637713.
3- Rezával C*, Pattnaik S, Pavlou HJ, Nojima T, Brüggemeier B, D'Souza LAD and Goodwin SF. Activation of latent courtship circuitry in the brain of Drosophila females induces male-like behaviours. Curr Biol. 2016 Sep 26;26(18):2508 15.
4- Rose S, Beckwith EJ, Burmester C, May RC, Dionne MS, Rezaval C. Pre-copulatory reproductive behaviours are preserved in Drosophila melanogaster infected with bacteria. Proc Biol Sci. 2022 May 11;289(1974):20220492. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2022.0492. Epub 2022 May 11. PMID: 35538789; PMCID: PMC9091859.
5- Rings A, Goodwin SF. To court or not to court - a multimodal sensory decision in Drosophila males. Curr Opin Insect Sci. 2019 Oct;35:48-53. doi: 10.1016/j.cois.2019.06.009. ‘Neuronal modulation of D. melanogaster sexual behaviour’. Ellendersen BE, von Philipsborn AC. Curr Opin Insect Sci. 2017 Dec;24:21-28. doi: 10.1016/j.cois.2017.08.005. Epub 2017 Sep 14.
6-Devineni AV, Scaplen KM. Neural Circuits Underlying Behavioral Flexibility: Insights From Drosophila. Front Behav Neurosci. 2022 Jan 6;15:821680. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2021.821680. PMID: 35069145; PMCID: PMC8770416.
In the news: Our recent paper received a lot of attention from the scientific community and the media
10- Check out our science outreach activities:

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Biological Sciences?

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

Where will I study?

Search Suggestions
Search suggestions

Based on your current searches we recommend the following search filters.