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

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Carolina Rezaval
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

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?

To address these questions, the PhD student will use a range of cutting-edge techniques:

confocal microscopy,
molecular biology,
behavioural assays.

To record neural activity in behaving flies, we will collaborate with research groups at Oxford University and Tel Aviv University.


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.

Informal enquiries about the post should be directed to Dr Carolina Rezaval [Email Address Removed]

For information about research in our laboratory, please visit:

Watch a 3-minute video about Dr Rezaval’s past work:

Dr. Rezaval’s previous work at Oxford University can be found here:


Apply here and select our PhD project from ’food security’. Please view the specific guidance on the Birmingham website
Please also notify MIBTP of your application by completing the online application notification form.

Funding Notes

You can apply for a 4 year BBSRC-funded doctoral fellowship (MIBTP):
Eligibility: UK/EU nationals, residence in the UK is NOT a pre-requisite.

Too apply please generate an account:
and select our project.

You can also apply for a PhD Darwin fellowship to study the role of infection in reproductive success in our lab. ttps://

The deadlines for these applications is January, 6th. Please, contact me for more info: [Email Address Removed].

We encourage applications at any time from students able to find their own funding or who wish to apply for their own funding.


'Neuronal Decision-Making Circuits'. William B. Kristan. Curr Biol. 2008 Oct 14;18(19):R928-32. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.07.081.

‘Neuromodulation of Innate Behaviors in Drosophila’. Kim SM1, Su CY1, Wang JW1. Annu Rev Neurosci. 2017 Jul 25;40:327-348. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-072116-031558. Epub 2017 Apr 24.

‘100 years of Drosophila research and its impact on vertebrate neuroscience: a history lesson for the future’. Bellen HJ1, Tong C, Tsuda H. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2010 Jul;11(7):514-22. doi: 10.1038/nrn2839.

‘Cracking neural circuits in a tiny brain: new approaches for understanding the neural circuitry of Drosophila’. Olsen and Wilson. Trends Neurosci. 2008 Oct;31(10):512-20. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2008.07.006. Epub 2008 Sep 3.

'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.

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.80

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

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