Sweta Agrawal, PhD

Function and evolution of proprioceptive circuits

My long-term goal is to build and run a research group focusing on the function and evolution of the Drosophila proprioceptive system.

Proprioception, an animal’s sense of position and movement of its own body, is essential for almost all coordinated movement throughout the animal kingdom. However, while comparative work suggests that functionally, proprioceptive systems are largely conserved across a variety of species, animals vary in size, body shape, muscle types, locomotor gaits, and environments, meaning their proprioceptive systems face different challenges. We know little about how such variations impact the function and organization of proprioceptive circuits.

My research program will characterize the neural computations underlying proprioceptive encoding and how those computations are shaped by variations in motor systems or limb shape. In particular, I will focus on the function and evolution of the Drosophila proprioceptive system. Drosophila is a particularly powerful model system for understanding proprioceptive processing: central circuits that integrate and process proprioceptive inputs are more experimentally accessible than those of vertebrates, but still analogous in organization and function. Additionally, Drosophila use two different modes of locomoting (flight and walking), which operate via different muscles controlling different limbs moving at different timescales (<30 steps/s vs. 200 wingbeats/s) and likely evolved independently. As a result, even within a single species, I can compare the neural computations underlying proprioceptive encoding in two different sensorimotor systems to understand how variations in motor systems influence proprioceptive function. In addition, I will utilize cross-species comparisons to further extend what I learn in Drosophila to other systems.