Dr Arantza Barrios

Arantza Barrios

Research Associate

University College London

Dept. Cell and Developmental Biology

Rockefeller Building, Room 518

Tel: 02076796577

Ext: 46577

Previous posts:

2009-2012- Postdoctoral Researcher at Rutgers University

2005-2009- Postdoctoral Researcher at Albert Einstein College of Medicine

2003-2004- Postdoctoral Researcher at MRC LMCB

2002 PhD in Developmental Biology- University College London

1996 BSc in Biology – Universitat de Barcelona and King’s College London



Research Theme

One of the most fascinating properties of the brain is its ability to process one sensory stimulus into distinct, sometimes opposite, behavioural outputs. This is the basis of learning and decision-making, and what enables animals to couple behaviour with their ever-changing needs.

My lab studies the mechanisms that provide neural circuits with this functional plasticity. We focus on three important factors that influence the way sensory information is processed: reinforcing experiences; internal states of arousal; and sexual dimorphism.

Our experimental system is the free-living nematode C. elegans, a genetic model organism with only 385 neurons (in males) and a high level of behavioural plasticity. This allows us to dissect, at the molecular and single-cell level, how complex, integrative behavioural decisions arise from the dynamic properties of neural circuits. We study ethologically relevant behaviours that are modified by experience.

The C. elegans male’s conundrum on a patch of food: Should I stay or should I go?

A male deprived of mates (left) explores inside and outside a patch of food, eventually leaving completely. Right Panel: A male that has experienced mates (centre) explores only within the limits of the food patch.

We have found a conserved role for secretin neuropeptide signaling in the generation of behavioural states of arousal associated with motivational drives. In male worms, the secretin neuropeptide PDF stimulates exploration away from food in search of mates. 

The Mystery Cells of the Male: a new class of male-specific interneurons!

The Mystery Cells are glia-derived neurons required for sex-specific associative learning (sexual conditioning).

We have found that glia-derived neurons, born during sexual maturation, remodel circuits for integration in a sex-specific manner.


Public engagement


Relevant publications

  • Sammut, M., Cook, S. J., Nguyen, K., Felton, T., Hall, D.H., Emmons, S. W., Poole, R. J.*, Barrios, A.* (2015). Glia-derived neurons are required for sex-specific learning in C. elegans. Nature, in press. DOI 10.1038/nature15700 * Co-Corresponding authors. 
  • Barrios, A. (2014). Behavioral plasticity: A nose for every season. Current Biology 24 (21):R1057-59. 
  • Barrios, A. (2014). Exploratory decisions of the C. elegans male: a conflict of two drives. Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology. 10.1016/j.semcdb.2014.06.003
  • Barrios, A.*, Ghosh, R., Fang, C., Emmons, S.W. and Barr, M.M. (2012). PDF-1 neuropeptide signaling modulates a neural circuit for mate-searching behavior in C. elegans. Nature Neuroscience, 15, 1675-7682. * Corresponding author
  • Barrios, A.*, Nurrish, S., Emmons, S.W.* (2008). Sensory regulation of C. elegans male mate-searching behaviour. Current Biology 19 (23): 1865-71. * Corresponding author

Previous publications

  • Barrios, A., Poole, R., Durbin, L., Brennan, C., Holder, N., Wilson, S.W. (2003). Eph signaling regulates mesenchymal to epithelial transition of the paraxial mesoderm during somite morphogenesis. Current Biology 13 (18): 1571-82.
  • Williams, J.A., Barrios, A., Gatchalian, C., Rubin, L., Wilson, S.W., Holder, N. (2000).
  • Programmed cell death in zebrafish rohon beard neurons is influenced by TrkC1/NT-3 signalling. Dev Biol. 226(2):220-30.
  • Durbin, L., Sordino, P., Barrios, A., Gering, M., Thisse, C., Thisse, B., Brennan, C., Green, A., Wilson, S., Holder, N. (2000). Anteroposterior patterning is required within segments for somite boundary formation in developing zebrafish. Development 127(8):1703-13.
  • Durbin, L., Brennan, C., Shiomi, K., Cooke, J., Barrios, A., Shanmugalingam, S., Guthrie, B., Lindberg, R., Holder, N. (1998). Eph signalling is required for segmentation and differentiation of the somites. Genes Dev 12(19):3096-109.

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