When faced with a threat, an animal must decide whether to freeze, reducing its chances of being noticed, or to flee to the safety of a refuge. Animals from fish to primates choose between these two alternatives when confronted by an attacking predator, a choice that largely depends on the context in which the threat occurs. For example, the existence of  a refuge nearby may dictate the escape strategy deployed by the prey.  Another factor that plays a crucial role in regulating defensive responses is the social environment. For instance, many times defensive behaviours are carried out at the level of the population, such as shoaling in fish. Decades of research has led to great progress in our understanding of how survival circuits in the brain detect threats, whether relying on innate processes or learning. However, we still know very little about how these same circuits mediate the choice between different defensive responses. Once a defensive behavior is selected, a number of physiological changes implement its execution, from changes in muscle activity to changes in heart rate and mobilization of energy. Our lab aims to unravel the mechanisms of defence against an external threat. For many years we used rats as a model organisms (see our projects with rats here), but more recently decided to use Drosophila melanogaster instead (see our current projecs here). Studying defensive behaviours and underlying neural circuits will impact various fields, as defensive behaviours determine survival, shape ecosystems and impact mental health when dysfunctional.

Main Interests

Defensive and Social Behaviour

Methods

Development of behavioural tasks, Optogenetics, Physiology, Genetics, Anatomical tracing, Computer vision and Quantitative analysis of behaviour.

Models

Fruit fly

Rat (Past Research)

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AFFILIATION

Champalimaud Foundation

Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown

Avenida Brasília, 1400-038 Lisbon, Portugal

T (+351) 210 480 200

marta.moita(at)research.fchampalimaud.org

FUNDING