Our long-term vision is to understand how a brain produces subjective awareness. To achieve this long-term goal, we have focussed on understanding three brain states where awareness can be lost: general anaesthesia, sleep, and selective attention. During selective attention, we become unaware of objects outside our focus. How does that work? During sleep, the outside world is more broadly suppressed. Why is this necessary? Finally, during general anaesthesia, a bewildering array of drugs achieve the same, but deeper. By studying these three ways in which consciousness is lost, we hope to arrive at a better understanding on what is necessary for consciousness to exist – in any animal.

General anaesthetics do more than put you to sleep

  • van Swinderen, Bruno and Kelz, Max B. (2022). Anesthesia: Synaptic power failure. Current Biology, 32 (14), R781-R783. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.06.043
  • Van De Poll, Matthew N. and van Swinderen, Bruno (2021). Balancing prediction and surprise: A role for active sleep at the dawn of consciousness?. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 15 768762, 768762. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2021.768762
  • Hines, Adam D. and van Swinderen, Bruno (2021). Tracking single molecule dynamics in the adult Drosophila brain. eNeuro, 8 (3) ENEURO.0057-21.2021, ENEURO.0057-21.2021. doi: 10.1523/eneuro.0057-21.2021
  • Melnattur, Krishna, Kirszenblat, Leonie, Morgan, Ellen, Militchin, Valentin, Sakran, Blake, English, Denis, Patel, Rushi, Chan, Dorothy, van Swinderen, Bruno and Shaw, Paul J. (2021). A conserved role for sleep in supporting Spatial Learning in Drosophila. Sleep, 44 (3) zsaa197, 1-14. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsaa197
  • Leung, Angus, Cohen, Dror, Van Swinderen, Bruno and Tsuchiya, Naotsugu (2021). Integrated information structure collapses with anesthetic loss of conscious arousal in Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS Computational Biology, 17 (2) e1008722, e1008722. doi: 10.1371/JOURNAL.PCBI.1008722


  • Tainton-Heap, L., Kirszenblat, L., Notaras, E., Grabowska, M., Jeans, R., Feng, K., Shaw, P., van Swinderen, B. (2020) A paradoxical kind of sleep in Drosophila. Current Biology (in press).

  • Grabowska, M., Jeans, R., Steeves, J., van Swinderen, B. (2020) Oscillations in the central brain of Drosophila are phase locked to attended visual features. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) (in press)

  • Karunanithi, S., Lin, Y-Q., Odierna, L., Menon, H., Gonzalez, J., Noakes, P., Lavidis, N., Neely, G., Moorhouse, A., van Swinderen, B. (2020) Activity-dependent global downscaling of evoked neurotransmitter release across glutamatergic inputs in Drosophila. Journal of Neuroscience 40(42): 8025-8041.

  • Melnattur, K., Kirszenblat, L., Morgan, E., Militchin, V. Sakran, B., English. D., Patel, R., Chan, D., van Swinderen, B., Shaw. P. (2020) A conserved role for sleep in supporting spatial learning in Drosophila. Sleep 21: zsaa197.

  • Ertekin, D., Kirszenblat, L., Faville, R. van Swinderen, B. (2020) Downregulation of a cytokine secreted from peripheral fat bodies improves visual attention while reducing sleep in Drosophila. PLoS Biology. 18(8): e3000548.

  • Carter, O., van Swinderen, B., Leopold, D., Collin, S., Maier, A. (2020) Perceptual rivalry across animal species. Journal of Comparative Neurology (in press, May 2020).

  • Karunanithi, S., Cylinder, D., Ertekin, D., Zalucki, O., Marin, L., Lavidis, N., Atwood, H., van Swinderen, B. (2020) Proportional downscaling of glutamatergic release sites by the general anesthetic propofol at Drosophila motor nerve terminals. eNeuro 7(1).

  • Troup M, Zalucki OH, Kottler,BD, Karunanithi S, Anggono V, van Swinderen B. (2019) Syntaxin1A neomorphic mutations promote rapid recovery from isoflurane anesthesia in Drosophila melanogaster. Anesthesiology 131(3): 555-568.

  • Kirszenblat L, Yaun, R., van Swinderen B. (2019) Visual experience drives sleep need in Drosophila. Sleep 42(7): zsz102.

  • Kirszenblat L, Ertekin D, Goodsell J, Zhou Y, Shaw PJ, van Swinderen B. (2018) Sleep regulates visual selective attention in Drosophila. Journal of Experimental Biology. Dec 14; 221(Pt 24) . pii: jeb.191429.

  • Grabowska MJ, Steeves J, Alpay J, Van De Poll M, Ertekin D, van Swinderen B. (2018) Innate visual preferences and behavioral flexibility in Drosophila. Journal of Experimental Biology.Dec 5;221(Pt 23). pii: jeb185918.

  • Troup M, Yap MH, Rohrscheib C, Grabowska MJ, Ertekin D, Randeniya R, Kottler B, Larkin A, Munro K, Shaw PJ, van Swinderen B. (2018) Acute control of the sleep switch in Drosophila reveals a role for gap junctions in regulating behavioral responsiveness. eLife. Aug 15;7. pii: e37105

  • Bademosi, A.T., Steeves, J., Karunanithi, S., Zalucki, O.H., Gormal, R.S., Liu, S., Lauwers, E., Verstreken, P., Anggono, V., Meunier, F.A., van Swinderen, B. (2018) Trapping of syntaxin1A in presynaptic nanoclusters by a clinically relevant general anesthestic. Cell Reports 22(2):427-440

  • Yap, M.H.W., Grabowska, M.J., Rohrscheib, C., Jeans, R., Troup, M., Paulk, A.C., van Alphen, B., Shaw, P.J., van Swinderen, B. (2017) Oscillatory brain activity in spontaneous and induced sleep stages in flies. Nature Communications 8(1):1815.

  • Zalucki, O., van Swinderen, B. (2016) What is unconsciousness  in a fly or a worm? A review of general anesthesia in different animal models. Consciousness and Cognition 44: 72-88.

  • De Bivort, B.L., van Swinderen, B. (2016) Evidence for selective attention in the insect brain. Current Opinion in Insect Science 15: 9-15.

  • Kirszenblat, L., van Swinderen, B. (2015) The yin and yang of sleep and attention. Trends in Neurosciences. 38: 776-86.

  • Paulk, A.C., Kirszenblat, L., Zhou, Y-Q, van Swinderen, B. (2015) Closed-loop behavioral control increases coherence in the fly brain. Journal of Neuroscience 35: 10304-15.

  • Dissel, S., Angadi, V., Kirszenblat, L., Suzuki, Y., Donlea, J., Klose, M., Koch, Z., English, D., Winsky-Sommerer, R., van Swinderen, B., Shaw, P.J. (2015) Sleep restores plasticity to Drosophila mutants. Current Biology 25: 1270-81.

  • 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

View all publications

Recent breakthroughs:

2017: Sleep stages in the fly brain!

I think there are some links to QBI-made stories, already attached to my QBI webpage. Also, there will be a story up this week related to 2 papers just out (Tainton Heap et al, Current Biology, and Grabowska et al, PNAS), so you might want to update this to “2020: Sleep stages in the fly brain!” and 2020: Attention in the fly brain ! and just link to that?

2018: A new mechanism for general anaesthesia!

2020: Selective attention in the fly brain!

2020: Flies have an active sleep stage!

  • Electrophysiology in behaving animals
  • 2-photon microscopy in behaving animals
  • Super-resolution microscopy and analysis techniques
  • Behavioural assays assays in freely-walking and tethered flies
  • Sleep behaviour and analysis in Drosophila flies
  • Molecular biology and genomic analysis
  • Matlab programming