Dr Bruno van Swinderen

Contact Information

Building: QBI Building #79
Room: 343
Tel: +61 7 334 66332

Mailing Address

Queensland Brain Institute
The University of Queensland
Brisbane, 4072


Lab Members

Lab Home Page

Short biography

Research directions

Current collaborations

Selected publications


Short biography

Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen received his PhD in Evolutionary and Population Biology in 1998 from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. His graduate work was on general anesthesia in a Caenorhabditis elegans model, applying both quantitative genetics and molecular genetic approaches.

For his postdoc at The Neurosciences Institute (NSI) in San Diego, California (1999-2003), he switched to Drosophila melanogaster to develop methods of studying perception in the fruit-fly model. He ran a lab at NSI from 2003 to late 2007.

In February 2008, Associate Professor van Swinderen established a new laboratory at the Queensland Brain Institute.



Research directions

We use Drosophila as a genetic model system to study mechanisms of perception in the brain. We are interested in three phenomena: selective attention, sleep, and general anesthesia. Our focus is on visual perception and how it is affected by these different arousal states. Most of our current effort is in understanding visual selective attention in the fly brain and how attention processes interact with memory formation. Toward this goal, we use various novel visual paradigms in a Drosophila molecular genetics context.

Attention and memory

Behavioral choices result from an ongoing interplay between attention and memory. We have developed paradigms to study visual attention and memory in Drosophila, thereby allowing us to investigate this complex problem in a powerful genetic model. Two levels of investigation are involved: behavior and brain electrophysiology. Behavioral screening methods allow us to determine visual responsiveness levels resulting from gene mutations or drug treatments, and electrophysiology in individual flies identifies brain processes affected by our manipulations. Our goal is to identify mechanisms of visual attention, and to elucidate how these processes interact with memory systems.

Anesthesia and sleep

We all sleep, and many of us require anesthesia during surgery at some point in our lives. However, the function of sleep is unclear, and the mechanism of general anesthesia remains mysterious. Our insight into brain processes modulating visual perception in Drosophila is applied at an electrophysiological level towards understanding sleep and general anesthesia, when perception is lost. We approach this problem by targeting candidate molecular systems at the level of molecular lesions and pharmacology.

Other projects

Our electrophysiological approaches to studying attention-like processes and memory are easily adapted to other insects. We are interested in applying our paradigms to other species beyond the Drosophila model, such as honeybees. This will allow us to better address specific questions pertaining to neurophysiology as well as to behavioral ecology.

Current Collaborations

  • Paul Shaw, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Li Liu, Institute for Biophysics, Beijing

Selected publications

Paulk, A.C., Zhou, Y-Q, Stratton, P., Liu, L.,van Swinderen, B. (2013) Multichannel brain recordings in behaving Drosophila reveal oscillatory activity and local coherence in response to sensory stimulation and circuit activation. Journal of Neurophysiology 110: 1703-1721.

Kottler, B., Bao, H., Zalucki, O., Troupe, M., Imlach, W. Paulk, A., van Alphen, B., Zhang, B., van Swinderen, B. (2013) A sleep/wake circuit controls isoflurane sensitivity in
Drosophila. Current Biology 23: 594-8.

van Alphen, B., Yap, M., Kirszenblat, L., Kottler, B., van Swinderen, B. (2013) A dynamic deep sleep stage in Drosophila. Journal of Neuroscience 33: 6917-27 

Calcagno, B., Eyles, D., van Alphen, B., van Swinderen, B. (2013) Transient activation of dopaminergic neurons during development modulates visual responsiveness, locomotion, and brain activity in a dopamine ontogeny model of schizophrenia. Translational Psychiatry, 2: e2026

van Swinderen, B. (2012) Competing visual flicker reveals attention-like rivalry in the fly brain. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 6:96.

van Swinderen, B. and Brembs, B. (2010) Attention-like deficit and hyperactivity in a Drosophila memory mutant. Journal of Neuroscience. Jan 20; 30(3):1003-14.

van Swinderen, B., McCartney, A., Kauffman, S., Flores, K., Wagner, J., Paulk, A. (2009) Shared visual attention and memory systems in the Drosophila brain. PLoS One. 2009 Jun 19;4(6):e5989.

van Swinderen, B. (2007) Attention-Like Processes in Drosophila Require Short-Term Memory Genes. Science. 2007 Mar 16;315(5818):1590-3.

van Swinderen, B. and Flores, K. (2007) Attention-like processes underlying optomotor performance in a Drosophila choice maze. Dev Neurobiol. 2007 Feb 1;67(2):129-45

van Swinderen, B. (2006) A Succession of Anesthetic Endpoints in the Drosophila brain. Journal of Neurobiology 66: 1195-1211.

van Swinderen, B. The remote roots of consciousness in fruit-fly selective attention? (2005) Bioessays 27: 321-330.

van Swnderen, B., Nitz, D.A., Greenspan, R.J. (2004) Uncoupling of Brain Activity from Movement Defines Arousal States in Drosophila. Current Biology Vol. 14, 81-87.

van Swinderen, B., and Greenspan, R.J. (2003) Salience Modulates 20-30 Hz brain activity in Drosophila. Nature Neuroscience Vol. 6, #6, p579-586.

Nitz, D.A., van Swinderen, B., Tononi, G., Greenspan, R.J. (2002) Electrophysiological Correlates of Rest and Activity in Drosophila melanogaster. Current Biology Vol. 12, 1934-1940.

van Swinderen, B., Saifee, O., Shebester, L., Roberson, R., Nonet, M.L. and Crowder, C.M. (1999) A neomorphic syntaxin mutation blocks volatile-anesthetic action in Caenorhabditis elegans. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 96: 2479-2484.