Université de Strasbourg

Sylvain Hugel

Biography - Sylvain Hugel

Institute of Cellular and Integrative Neuroscience (INCI), University of Strasbourg and CNRS, France

Sylvain Hugel, USIAS Fellow 2021Sylvain Hugel has a dual scientific career in neurobiology and zoology. He studied biology at Louis Pasteur University (Strasbourg) where he obtained his PhD in neurosciences in 2002. During his thesis under the supervision of Professor Rémy Schlichter, he studied inhibitory synaptic transmission and its modulation by purines in the dorsal spinal cord. During his postdoctoral fellowship (2002-2005), he studied the role of dendritic spines with Professor Anne McKinney, first in the laboratory headed by Professor Beat Gähwiler at the University of Zurich (Switzerland), and then at McGill University in Montreal (Canada).

Since 2005, he is a research scientist at the Institute of Cellular and Integrative Neuroscience, a joint research laboratory of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Strasbourg. In his current research, he examines the role of short-term synaptic plasticity in the processing of potentially painful information by neural networks in the spinal cord.

In parallel with his research in neurobiology, Sylvain Hugel carries out research projects in zoology, mainly on orthopteran insects (crickets, grasshoppers, locusts) and studies their ecology, acoustics and evolution. He regularly participates in international biodiversity field surveys, and has described many new species (like the Glomeremus orchidophilus, a pollinating cricket) from tropical America and from the islands of the Malagasy region. In this context, he collaborates with Professor Brian Fisher (California Academy of Sciences) to farm local crickets in Madagascar in order to fight against malnutrition.

He is a corresponding member of the French National Museum of Natural History (MNHN), and a member of the Regional Scientific Council for Natural Heritage (CSRPN) of the Great East region of France and of the scientific council of the Conservatory of Alsatian Sites (CSA).

Project - Changes in short-term neuronal plasticity as a process by which populations evolve to become distinct species

01/12/2021 - 30/11/2023

Organisms belonging to the same species are reproductively and genetically isolated from organisms belonging to other species. This reproductive isolation is the fundamental process that determines how multiple species evolve from a single one, and also dictates boundaries between distinct species. Various mechanisms and traits contribute to reproductive isolation. In many animals, this isolation involves precise reproductive behaviours that are characteristic of each species. For example, the song of male crickets is unique to each species and is recognized only by females of their own species. Specialized neural networks in the nervous system of crickets are only activated by the species-specific song, and therefore participate in the reproductive isolation. These neural networks process acoustic information by mechanisms involving short-term plasticity to detect the species-specific song structure.

Sylvian Hugel and colleagues from the island of Réunion recently discovered a cricket species there, consisting of two morphologically identical populations but with distinct song patterns. Both molecular and behavioural data suggest that they represent a unique case of speciation, i.e. a recent or ongoing separation of the species into two distinct species.

Taking advantage of this discovery, the project aims to address fundamental questions at the interface between neuroscience and evolutionary biology to determine how the evolution of information processing by a neural network allows for the establishment of reproductive isolation and contributes to the phenomenon of speciation.

To address these questions, field data (acoustics, behaviour, ecology and population genetics) will be combined with cutting-edge approaches in neuroscience (dynamic imaging of the potential associated with electrophysiology) making it possible to visualize the activation of neurons processing acoustic information in crickets brains. Ecological and population genetics will be carried out in collaboration with Dr. Ben Warren of the French National Museum of Natural History.

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Investissements d'Avenir