Jay Hirsh

Professor of Biology, Director of Undergraduate Program in Neuroscience
416 PLSB
(434) 982-5608
Lab: (434) 982-5607


  • B.A., Northwestern University, 1971
  • Ph.D., Brandeis University, 1976
  • Postdoc Research, California Inst. of Technology, 1976-1979

Research Interests

We study behavioral roles of biogenic amine neurotransmitters in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. These transmitters, including the well-studied molecules dopamine and serotonin, have roles in the fly that parallel those found in higher animals, validating use of this important genetic model. We study these roles with pharmacological, physiological and genetic approaches. Drugs such as aerosolized free base cocaine directly target this system, and can be used as probes to study its state in vivo

We have developed a new model fly lacking dopamine in the brain. The laboratory is now critically focussed on an unexpected finding from these flies: on backcrossing, a sub-line of these flies regained surprisingly normal levels of locomotion, a phenotype we are calling ‘dopamine bypass’. We are using multiple approaches to identify the genes required for this dopamine bypass phenotype. These genes may be of relevance to human diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease, where loss of dopamine neurons results in serious motor and cognitive issues. In addition, we are using the dopamine deficient flies to study behavioral roles of dopamine neuron subsets by selective restoration of dopamine. 

Link to videos showing cocaine-induced fly behaviors>>

Representative Publications

  • Niens J, Reh F, Çoban B, Cichewicz K, Eckardt J, Liu YT, Hirsh J, Riemensperger TD. Dopamine Modulates Serotonin Innervation in the Drosophila Brain. Front Syst Neurosci. 2017 Oct 16;11:76. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2017.00076. eCollection 2017. PMID:29085286.  Free PMC Article

  • Cichewicz K, Garren EJ, Adiele C, Aso Y, Wang Z, Wu M, Birman S, Rubin GM, Hirsh J. A new brain dopamine-deficient Drosophila and its pharmacological and genetic rescue. Genes Brain Behav. 2017 Mar;16(3):394-403. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12353. Epub 2016 Nov 23. PMID: 27762066. Read Abstract

  • Nall AH, Shakhmantsir I, Cichewicz K, Birman S, Hirsh J, Sehgal A. Caffeine promotes wakefulness via dopamine signaling in DrosophilaSci Rep. 2016 Feb 12;6:20938. doi: 10.1038/srep20938. PMID: 26868675.  Free PMC Article

  • Vinayak P, Coupar J, Hughes SE, Fozdar P, Kilby J, Garren E, Yoshii T, Hirsh J. Exquisite light sensitivity of Drosophila melanogaster cryptochrome. PLoS Genet. 2013;9(7):e1003615. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003615. Epub 2013 Jul 18. PMID: 23874218. Free PMC Article