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Sarah Certel, Assistant Professor

Location: Skaggs 393

Phone: (406) 243-6479


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 two approaches.

Behavior:  First, we use Drosophila as a model system to determine how complex interactions between neural circuits and the cellular and global environment regulate the expression of social 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.

Developmental Biology:  Our second 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

Research Interests

See the lab webpage for more detailed information.

Selected Publications

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 (,

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.

Field of Study

Behavioral Neurobiology

Developmental Genetics

Cell Biology