Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen

Principal Research Fellow - GL

Queensland Brain Institute
+61 7 334 66332


Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen received his PhD in Evolutionary and Population Biology in 1998 from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. His graduate work was on general anesthesia in a Caenorhabditis elegans model, applying both quantitative genetics and molecular genetic approaches. For his postdoc at The Neurosciences Institute (NSI) in San Diego, California (1999-2003), he switched to Drosophila melanogaster to develop methods of studying perception in the fruit-fly model. He ran a lab at NSI from 2003 to late 2007.

In February 2008, Associate Professor van Swinderen established a new laboratory at the Queensland Brain Institute.

Bruno van Swinderen's group use Drosophila as a genetic model system to study mechanisms of perception in the brain abd are interested in three phenomena: selective attention, sleep, and general anesthesia. Their focus is on visual perception and how it is affected by these different arousal states. Most of our current effort is in understanding visual selective attention in the fly brain and how attention processes interact with memory formation. Toward this goal, they use various novel visual paradigms in a Drosophila molecular genetics context.

Research Interests

  • Attention and memory
    Behavioral choices result from an ongoing interplay between attention and memory. We have developed paradigms to study visual attention and memory in Drosophila, thereby allowing us to investigate this complex problem in a powerful genetic model. Two levels of investigation are involved: behavior and brain electrophysiology. Behavioral screening methods allow us to determine visual responsiveness levels resulting from gene mutations or drug treatments, and electrophysiology in individual flies identifies brain processes affected by our manipulations. Our goal is to identify mechanisms of visual attention, and to elucidate how these processes interact with memory systems.
  • Anesthesia and sleep
    We all sleep, and many of us require anesthesia during surgery at some point in our lives. However, the function of sleep is unclear, and the mechanism of general anesthesia remains mysterious. Our insight into brain processes modulating visual perception in Drosophila is applied at an electrophysiological level towards understanding sleep and general anesthesia, when perception is lost. We approach this problem by targeting candidate molecular systems at the level of molecular lesions and pharmacology.


  • Doctor of Philosophy, Wash. (St Louis)


  • Kirszenblat, Leonie, Yaun, Rebecca and van Swinderen, Bruno (2019) Visual experience drives sleep need in Drosophila. Sleep, 42 7: . doi:10.1093/sleep/zsz102

  • Grabowska, Martyna J., Steeves, James, Alpay, Julius, van de Poll, Matthew, Ertekin, Deniz and van Swinderen, Bruno (2018) Innate visual preferences and behavioral flexibility in Drosophila. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 221 23: . doi:10.1242/jeb.185918

  • Kirszenblat, Leonie, Ertekin, Deniz, Goodsell, Joseph, Zhou, Yanqiong, Shaw, Paul J. and van Swinderen, Bruno (2018) Sleep regulates visual selective attention in Drosophila. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 221 24: jeb.191429. doi:10.1242/jeb.191429

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Book Chapter

  • Karunanithi, Shanker, Troup, Michael and van Swinderen, Bruno (2018). Using Drosophila to Understand General Anesthesia: From Synapses to Behavior. In Methods in Enzymology (pp. 153-176) Maryland Heights, MO United States: Academic Press. doi:10.1016/bs.mie.2018.02.003

  • van Swinderen, B. (2010). Visual learning and perception in Drosophila. In Bing Zhang, Marc R. Freeman and Scott Waddell (Ed.), Drosophila neurobiology: A laboratory manual (pp. 411-427) New York , U.S.A: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

  • van Swinderen, B. (2006). Sleep in Invertebrates. In Jon H. Kaas (Ed.), Evolution of Nervous Systems, Volume 1: Theories, Development, Invertebrates (pp. 451-456) Oxford: Academic Press. doi:10.1016/B0-12-370878-8/00185-3

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Edited Outputs

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Master Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

Completed Supervision