Sarah J. Certel, PhD., Associate Professor
BIOB 375 General Genetics (alternating Spring semesters)
BIOH 441 CNS Diseases
BIOH 458 Neuroscience Research Techniques Lab
Research in my lab focuses on understanding how genetic and neural networks function to mediate social behavior in Drosophila. We are exploring how the brain is wired for behavior and decision-making using multiple approaches.
Behavior: Aggression in Drosophila provides an excellent system to study both the neural substrates of this complex behavior as well as how an organism activates aggressive over other social behaviors. In males, aggression and the reproductive behavior courtship, provide a relevant choice point to examine how context-specific sensory information is integrated into the CNS to generate the appropriate behavioral responses in complex social situations. We are currently examining the octopamine (OA) neuronal system as a key component in this male decision-making process.
Epigenetics: IIn our second project, we are investigating how the highly plastic chromatin environment regulates cellular differentiation and cellular output. Methyl-CpG binding domain (MBD) -containing proteins bind methylated DNA and function to translate this chemical modification into appropriate tissue or cell differentiation states. We are examining how reductions in Drosophila MBD-containing proteins alter the functional differentiation of neurons necessary for the behaviors of sleep and aggression. As a whole, our studies provide insight into an under examined area of epigenetics by delivering a critical readout not just of nuclear changes to cellular differentiation defects but nuclear changes to circuit or network dysfunction.
Developmental Biology: Our third experimental approach focuses on understanding how gene-environment interactions contribute to brain development and function. We are asking: How does modification of the local environment surrounding individual neurons or small neuronal groups regulate their connectivity and function? To begin to address this question, we are studying the CCN family of secreted multimodular proteins. Members of this family have been proposed to bridge the functional and physical gap between extracellular matrix-associated proteins and cell surface molecules by binding to both matrix proteins as well as cell surface receptors. We have identified the Drosophila member of the CCN family and are initially focusing on how this CCN protein contributes to CNS development and functions as a basis to provide new insight into the fundamental role of cell-extracellular matrix regulation in developmental, pathological and behavioral processes.
Postdoctoral Training, Harvard Medical School, 2000-2009
Ph.D. University of Iowa, 1999
M.A. University of Nebraska-Omaha, 1993
B.S. Evangel University, 1991
See the lab webpage for more detailed information.
Field of Study
Sherer LM, Catudio Garret E, Morgan HR, Sirrs LA, Shearin HK, Williams JL, McCabe BD, Stowers RS, and Certel, SJ. (2019) Octopamine neuron dependent aggression requires dVGLUT from dual-transmitting neurons.
Sherer LM, Certel SJ. (2019) The fight to understand fighting: neurogenetic approaches to the study of aggression in insects. Curr Opin Insect Sci. 2019 Jun 27;36:18-24.
Gupta T, Morgan HR, Andrews JC, Brewer ER, and Certel SJ. (2017) Methyl-CpG binding domain proteins inhibit interspecies courtship and promote aggression in Drosophila. Sci Rep. 2017 Jul 14;7(1):5420.
Gupta T, Morgan HR, Bailey JA, and Certel S.J. (2015) Functional conservation of MBD proteins: MeCP2 and Drosophila MBD proteins alter sleep. Genes Brain Behav. 2016 Nov;15(8):757-774
Hess-Homeier, D.L., Fan, C-Y, Gupta, T., Chiang, A-S., and Certel., S.J. (2014) Astrocyte-specific regulation of hMeCP2 expression in Drosophila. Biology Open, Oct 10;3(11):1011-9.
Andrews, J.C., Fernández, M.P., Yu, Q., Leary, G.P., Leung, A.K.W., Kavanaugh, M.P, Kravitz, E.A., and Certel, S.J. (2014) Octopamine neuromodulation regulates the Gr32a pathway to promote aggression in Drosophila males. PLoS Genetics May 22;10(5):e1004356.
Certel, S.J. and Kravitz, E.A. (2012) Scoring and analyzing aggression in Drosophila. Cold Spring Harb Protocols Mar 1;2012(3):319-2.
Burke, C.J., Huetteroth, W., Krashes, M.J., Perisse, E., Das, G., Gohl, D., Silies, M., Certel, S.J., and Waddell, S (2012). Layered reward signaling through octopamine and dopamine in Drosophila. Nature 492(7429):433-7.
Certel SJ, Leung A, Lin CY, Perez P, Chiang AS, Kravitz EA. (2010) Octopamine neuromodulatory effects on a social behavior decision-making network in Drosophila males. PLoS One. 2010 Oct 12;5(10):e13248.
Certel, S.J. and Kravitz, E.A. (2010). Studying Aggression in Drosophila. Drosophila Neurobiology Methods: A Laboratory Manual. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Woodbury, NY.
Certel S.J., Savella M.G., Schlegel D.C.F. and Kravitz E.A. (2007) Modulation of Drosophila male behavioral choice. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci.104(11) 4706-4711.?-highlighted in Cell Leading Edge (Cell 129(2):227).
Mundiyanapurath, S., Certel, S.J. and Kravitz, E.A. (2007) Studying aggression in Drosophila. Journal of Visualized Experiments, Second issue, online access at (http://www.jove.com/index/Details.stp?ID=155, http://www.jove.com/resources/pubmedgen/default.aspx?PDF=&ID=155)
Certel, S.J. and Thor, S. (2004) Regulation of Motor Axon Targeting by the Combinatorial Activity of POU and LIM-HD factors. Development 131(21):5429-39.
Certel, S.J., Clyne, P.J., Carlson, J.R. and Johnson, W.A. (2000) Regulation of central neuronsynaptic targeting by the Drosophila POU protein, Acj6. Development 127:2395-2405.
Clyne, P.J., Certel, S.J., de Bruyne, M., Zaslavsky, L., Johnson, W.A. and Carlson, J.R. (1999) The Odor Specificities of a Subset of Olfactory Receptor Neurons Are Goverened by Acj6, a POU-domain Transcription Factor. Neuron 22:339-347.
Anderson, M.G., Certel, S.J., Certel, K., Lee, T., Montell, D.J. and Johnson, W.A. (1996) Function of the Drosophila POU domain transcription factor, Drifter, as an upstream regulator of Breathless receptor tyrosine kinase expression in developingtrachea. Development 122, 4169-4178.
Certel, S.J. and Johnson, W.A. (1996) Disruption of mesectodermal lineages by temporalmisexpression of the Drosophila POU-domain transcription factor, drifter. Developmental Genetics 18:279-288.
Drosophila behavior and neuronal development
Division of Biological Sciences
BIOH 441 - CNS Diseases
BIOB 375 - General Genetics
Neuroscience Research Interests
Understanding how neuronal connections, epigenetic mechanisms, and biogenic amines regulate male aggression and reproductive behavior using Drosophila as a model system.
Area of Expertise
Neuroscience; Amine Neuron Function, Gene Regulation, Neural Circuitry, Animal Agression