Herman A. Dierick



E-mail: dierick@bcm.edu

Assistant Professor, Baylor College of Medicine

M.D., Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, 1991
Postdoc, University of Michigan, 1992-97
Postdoc, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, 1997-2000
Research Fellow, The Neurosciences Institute, La Jolla, CA, 2001-07

Genetic and neurobiological mechanism of Drosophila aggression

Aggression is a complex social behavior that is influenced by numerous genetic and environmental factors. Neither the genes underlying this behavior nor its neurobiological mechanism(s) are very well worked out. Much of the aggressive behavior observed in nature is directed towards animals of the same species, so called intraspecific aggression, and revolves around competition for limiting resources in the environment, food and mating partners. Most if not all animals show some form of aggression which suggests that the fundamental aspects of aggressive behavior may well be conserved throughout the animal kingdom. Even though aggression is a normal behavior necessary for animals to successfully compete and contributes to the survival of the animal and the species, aggression can also take on pathological forms. Numerous human diseases are characterized by an aggression component.

In the past, we have pursued two angles to start to understand the neurobiological basis of aggression in Drosophila melanogaster. In a first set of experiments, we performed selection on a wild type strain using a very specific selective pressure in a population based environment. We picked animals for further breeding that performed a rare but highly aggressive behavioral element known as escalated fighting in which males reciprocally lunge at each other and box and tussle in order to gain control over a territory. After the selected lines showed reliably different levels of aggression from control strains, we performed micro array expression experiments to look for changes in gene expression in the heads of the high and low aggression strains. This resulted in a list of candidate genes, some of which as individual mutations partially recapitulated the phenotype. In a set of follow-up experiments, we analyzed the effect of two neuromodulators, known to affect aggression in mammals. Both these modulators, serotonin (5-HT) and neuropeptide F (npf) strongly affect aggression in the fly, albeit not exactly in the same way.

Our research goal is to continue to dissect the genetics and neurobiological mechanisms of aggressive behavior in Drosophila melanogaster, using the many sophisticated genetic, cell biological and neurobiological tools that are available in this species. Eventually, we want to investigate whether the mechanisms and genes identified in the vinegar fly are conserved in vertebrate species including mammals.

Selected Publications

Moline MM, Dierick HA, Southern C, Bejsovec A (2000) Non-equivalent roles of Drosophila Frizzled and Dfrizzled2 in embryonic wingless signal transduction. Current Biology 10:1127-1130.

Ostrowski S, Dierick HA, Bejsovec A (2002) Genetic control of cuticle formation during embryonic development of Drosophila melanogaster. Genetics 161:171-182.

Chao AT*, Dierick HA*, Addy TM, Bejsovec A (2003) Mutations in eukaryotic release factors 1 and 3 act as general nonsense suppressors in Drosophila. Genetics 165:601-612. *Equal contribution.

Greenspan RJ, Dierick HA (2004) ‘Am not I a fly like thee?’ From genes in fruit flies to behavior in humans. Human Molecular Genetics 13 Spec No 2:R267-273.

Dierick HA, Greenspan RJ (2006) Molecular analysis of flies selected for aggressive behavior. Nature Genetics 38:1023-1031.

Dierick HA, Greenspan RJ (2007) Serotonin and neuropeptide F have opposite modulatory effects on fly aggression. Nature Genetics 39:678-682.

Dierick HA (2007) A method for quantifying aggression in male Drosophila melanogaster. Nature Protocols 2:2712-2718.

Dierick HA (2008) Fly fighting: octopamine modulates aggression. Current Biology 18:R161-163.

Kuo TH, Fedina TY, Hansen I, Dreisewerd K, Dierick HA, Yew JY, Pletcher SD (2012) Insulin signaling mediates sexual attractiveness in Drosophila. PLoS Genetics 8:e1002684.

Kuo TH, Yew JY, Fedina TY, Dreisewerd K, Dierick HA, Pletcher SD (2012) Aging modulates cuticular hydrocarbons and sexual attractiveness in Drosophila melanogaster. Journal of Experimental Biology 215:814-821.

Thomas A, Lee PJ, Dalton JE, Nomie KJ, Stoica L, Costa-Mattioli M, Chang P, Nuzhdin S, Arbeitman MN, Dierick HA (2012) A versatile method for cell-specific profiling of translated mRNAs in Drosophila. PLoS One 7:e40276.

Contact Information

Herman Dierick, M.D.

Department of Molecular and Human Genetics,
Department of Neuroscience
Baylor College of Medicine
One Baylor Plaza S803
Houston, Texas 77030, U.S.A.

Tel: (713) 798-6865
E-mail: dierick@bcm.edu

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