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Vidal-Gadea Lab

Molecular Neuroethology Lab


To thrive, animals must successfully interact with their environment, engaging in complex behaviors that include: 1) detecting relevant stimuli (sensation), 2) processing information and selecting appropriate outputs (integration), and 3) performing selected patterns of activity (execution). These tasks are mediated by nervous systems operating under constant genetic regulation. Understanding the neuro-molecular basis of behavior is essential to discern the principles governing animal (and human) behavior, which in turn aids in addressing disease and other challenges such as aging.

Our lab focuses on elucidating the neuronal and genetic basis of behavior through a three-pronged approach. We investigate the components of behavior by focusing on distinct questions that advance our understanding of the principles governing animal behavior. We utilize invertebrate models due to their succinct nervous systems and experimental amenability. Techniques employed in our lab include behavioral analysis, microscopy, immunohistochemistry, molecular tools (e.g., cloning, transgenesis, RNAi, qPCR), optogenetics, calcium ratiometry, and more.

Current Research Projects

1. Molecular Mechanisms of Muscle Degeneration and Protection During Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD)

Our lab studies DMD using both nematodes (C. elegans) and human muscle cell cultures. By leveraging the natural burrowing behavior of nematodes, we developed a high throughput automated assay to investigate motor output in healthy and dystrophic animals. We aim to identify mechanisms of muscle impairment, pathways to stall disease progression, and generate patient-specific models to evaluate potential treatments.

2. Animal Detection and Use of the Earth’s Magnetic Field

We explore how the nematode C. elegans detects and orients to the Earth’s magnetic field, providing insights into the interaction between magnetic fields and living systems. Our studies identified the AFD neurons as crucial for magnetic orientation, and we employ advanced magnetic cages to manipulate and study these fields.

3. Crustacean Neuroscience and Genetic Techniques

In collaboration with the Stein Lab (ISU) and the Lyko Lab (Germany), we are adapting modern molecular techniques for crustacean neuroscience research. Our work involves generating protocols for crayfish transgenesis, annotating genomes, and constructing plasmid libraries to manipulate gene expression. This research enhances our understanding of serotonergic signaling and escape behavior in crayfish.

Impact and Goals

Our research not only furthers fundamental knowledge of neuro-molecular mechanisms underlying behavior but also holds potential applications in various fields. These include improving motor function following injury or disease, designing intelligent machines capable of responding to environmental challenges, and developing therapeutic strategies for genetic disorders like DMD.

Techniques and Methodologies

We employ a wide array of techniques in our research:

  • Behavioral Analysis
  • Microscopy
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Molecular Tools (e.g., Cloning, Transgenesis, RNAi, qPCR)
  • Optogenetics
  • Calcium Ratiometry
  • High Throughput Automated Assays

Our interdisciplinary approach integrates these methodologies to address complex biological questions and provide comprehensive insights into the genetic and neuronal basis of behavior.

For more details on our research and specific projects, please visit our Lab Website.


Vidal-Gadea Lab   

School of Biological Sciences
Illinois State University 
251 Science Laboratory Building
Campus Box 4120
Normal, Illinois 61790-4120
Office: (309) 438-5220
Lab: (309) 438-2643

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