Unlike most organ systems, which have evolved to maintain homeostasis, the brain has been selected to sense and adapt to environmental stimuli by constantly altering interactions in a gene network that functions within a larger neural network. This unique feature of the central nervous system provides a remarkable plasticity of behavior, but also makes experimental investigations challenging. Each experimental intervention ramifies through both gene and neural networks, resulting in unpredicted and sometimes confusing phenotypic adaptations. Experimental dissection of mechanisms underlying behavioral plasticity ultimately must accomplish an integration across many levels of biological organization, including genetic pathways acting within individual neurons, neural network interactions which feed back to gene function, and phenotypic observations at the behavioral level. This dissection will be more easily accomplished for model systems such as Drosophila, which, compared with mammals, have relatively simple and manipulable nervous systems and genomes. The evolutionary conservation of behavioral phenotype and the underlying gene function ensures that much of what we learn in such model systems will be relevant to human cognition. In this essay, we have not attempted to review the entire Drosophila memory field. Instead, we have tried to discuss particular findings that provide some level of intellectual synthesis across three levels of biological organization: behavior, neural circuitry and biochemical pathways. We have attempted to use this integrative approach to evaluate distinct mechanistic hypotheses, and to propose critical experiments that will advance this field.