Carol I. Miles
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences
I am interested in how a nervous system can produce changes in behaviors that are required at different times during an animal's life. My studies focus on the foregut of an insect, the moth Manduca sexta. The foregut is used for ingesting food, and it is driven by the frontal ganglion (FG) which contains only about 35 neurons. The limited number of neurons and the relative simplicity of the behaviors they control makes the FG especially amenable to an analysis of its neural circuitry. I am interested in how the behaviors it mediates are produced at the neuronal level, and how they are modulated in three different situations:
- During development, the feeding style of the leaf-eating larva is dramatically altered when it becomes a nectar-feeding adult. What mechanisms are involved in the functional re-wiring of the FG during adult development, and what developmental signals are responsible for triggering these changes?
- The FG is activated by the peptide eclosion hormone at critical times during the insect's periodic molts. What are the cellular mechanisms by which this hormone activates the FG neurons?
- Foregut activity is altered in Manduca larvae that are parasitized by a wasp. This effect is mediated by increases in blood levels of the neurohormone octopamine. How does the parasite cause this elevation in octopamine, and how does octopamine act on the neural circuitry of the FG to alter its activity?
Contact Carol I. Miles, S3, G40, ext. 7-4496.
Types of Research Experience Available
Students will be able to participate in such projects as administering drugs and assessing their effects on behavior, identifying neurons in the FG and following them through development, and assessing the effects of hormones or drugs on the activity of neurons in the ganglion. They can acquire such skills as microdissection, staining of neurons, analysis of behavior, and some neurophysiological techniques. A student may work as part of a team or on his or her own, depending on his/her level of commitment.
Ideally, students should have taken or be taking a course in neurobiology such as BIOL 313 or PSYC 362, although motivated students may speak with me about the possibility of working in the lab before taking these courses.