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Dickson Lab / Publications
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36 Publications

Showing 1-10 of 36 results
06/25/20 | Controlling motor neurons of every muscle for fly proboscis reaching.
McKellar CE, Siwanowicz I, Dickson BJ, Simpson JH
eLife. 2020 Jun 25;9:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.54978

We describe the anatomy of all the primary motor neurons in the fly proboscis and characterize their contributions to its diverse reaching movements. Pairing this behavior with the wealth of genetic tools offers the possibility to study motor control at single-neuron resolution, and soon throughout entire circuits. As an entry to these circuits, we provide detailed anatomy of proboscis motor neurons, muscles, and joints. We create a collection of fly strains to individually manipulate every proboscis muscle through control of its motor neurons, the first such collection for an appendage. We generate a model of the action of each proboscis joint, and find that only a small number of motor neurons are needed to produce proboscis reaching. Comprehensive control of each motor element in this numerically simple system paves the way for future study of both reflexive and flexible movements of this appendage.

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03/02/20 | Neural circuitry linking mating and egg laying in Drosophila females.
Wang F, Wang K, Forknall N, Patrick C, Yang T, Parekh R, Bock D, Dickson BJ
Nature. 2020 Mar 02;579(7797):101-105. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2055-9

Mating and egg laying are tightly cooordinated events in the reproductive life of all oviparous females. Oviposition is typically rare in virgin females but is initiated after copulation. Here we identify the neural circuitry that links egg laying to mating status in Drosophila melanogaster. Activation of female-specific oviposition descending neurons (oviDNs) is necessary and sufficient for egg laying, and is equally potent in virgin and mated females. After mating, sex peptide-a protein from the male seminal fluid-triggers many behavioural and physiological changes in the female, including the onset of egg laying. Sex peptide is detected by sensory neurons in the uterus, and silences these neurons and their postsynaptic ascending neurons in the abdominal ganglion. We show that these abdominal ganglion neurons directly activate the female-specific pC1 neurons. GABAergic (γ-aminobutyric-acid-releasing) oviposition inhibitory neurons (oviINs) mediate feed-forward inhibition from pC1 neurons to both oviDNs and their major excitatory input, the oviposition excitatory neurons (oviENs). By attenuating the abdominal ganglion inputs to pC1 neurons and oviINs, sex peptide disinhibits oviDNs to enable egg laying after mating. This circuitry thus coordinates the two key events in female reproduction: mating and egg laying.

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11/22/19 | TwoLumps ascending neurons mediate touch-evoked reversal of walking direction in Drosophila.
Sen R, Wang K, Dickson BJ
Current Biology. 2019 Nov 22;29(24):4337-44. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.11.004

External cues, including touch, enable walking animals to flexibly maneuver around obstacles and extricate themselves from dead-ends (for reviews, see [1-3]). In a screen for neurons that enable Drosophila melanogaster to retreat when it encounters a dead-end, we identified a pair of ascending neurons, the TwoLumps Ascending (TLA) neurons. Silencing TLA activity impairs backward locomotion, whereas optogenetic activation triggers backward walking. TLA-induced reversal is mediated in part by the Moonwalker Descending Neurons (MDNs) [4], which receive excitatory input from the TLAs. Silencing the TLAs decreases the extent to which freely walking flies back up upon encountering a physical barrier in the dark, and TLAs show calcium responses to optogenetic activation of neurons expressing the mechanosensory channel NOMPC. We infer that TLAs convey feedforward mechanosensory stimuli to transiently activate MDNs in response to anterior body touch.

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07/06/19 | Cellular level analysis of the locomotor neural circuits in Drosophila melanogaster.
minegishi r, Feng K, Dickson B
Biomimetic and Biohybrid Systems. 2019 Jul 6:334-7
03/12/19 | Split-QF system for fine-tuned transgene expression in Drosophila.
Riabinina O, Vernon SW, Dickson BJ, Baines RA
Genetics. 2019 Mar 12;212(1):53-63. doi: 10.1534/genetics.119.302034

The Q-system is a binary expression system that works well across species. Here we report the development and demonstrate applications of a split-QF system that drives strong expression in , is repressible by QS and inducible by a small non-toxic molecule quinic acid. The split-QF system is fully compatible with existing split-GAL4 and split-LexA lines, thus greatly expanding the range of possible advanced intersectional experiments and anatomical, physiological and behavioural assays in and in other organisms.

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03/08/19 | Neural evolution of context-dependent fly song.
Ding Y, Lillvis JL, Cande J, Berman GJ, Arthur BJ, Long X, Xu M, Dickson BJ, Stern DL
Current Biology : CB. 2019 Mar 08;29(7):1089-99. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.02.019

It is unclear where in the nervous system evolutionary changes tend to occur. To localize the source of neural evolution that has generated divergent behaviors, we developed a new approach to label and functionally manipulate homologous neurons across Drosophila species. We examined homologous descending neurons that drive courtship song in two species that sing divergent song types and localized relevant evolutionary changes in circuit function downstream of the intrinsic physiology of these descending neurons. This evolutionary change causes different species to produce divergent motor patterns in similar social contexts. Artificial stimulation of these descending neurons drives multiple song types, suggesting that multifunctional properties of song circuits may facilitate rapid evolution of song types.

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01/07/19 | Threshold-based ordering of sequential actions during Drosophila courtship.
McKellar CE, Lillvis JL, Bath DE, Fitzgerald JE, Cannon JG, Simpson JH, Dickson BJ
Current Biology : CB. 2019 Jan 07;29(3):426-34. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.12.019

Goal-directed animal behaviors are typically composed of sequences of motor actions whose order and timing are critical for a successful outcome. Although numerous theoretical models for sequential action generation have been proposed, few have been supported by the identification of control neurons sufficient to elicit a sequence. Here, we identify a pair of descending neurons that coordinate a stereotyped sequence of engagement actions during Drosophila melanogaster male courtship behavior. These actions are initiated sequentially but persist cumulatively, a feature not explained by existing models of sequential behaviors. We find evidence consistent with a ramp-to-threshold mechanism, in which increasing neuronal activity elicits each action independently at successively higher activity thresholds.

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07/04/18 | Visual projection neurons mediating directed courtship in Drosophila.
Ribeiro IM, Drews M, Bahl A, Machacek C, Borst A, Dickson BJ
Cell. 2018 Jul 04;174(3):607-21. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.06.020

Many animals rely on vision to detect, locate, and track moving objects. In Drosophila courtship, males primarily use visual cues to orient toward and follow females and to select the ipsilateral wing for courtship song. Here, we show that the LC10 visual projection neurons convey essential visual information during courtship. Males with LC10 neurons silenced are unable to orient toward or maintain proximity to the female and do not predominantly use the ipsilateral wing when singing. LC10 neurons preferentially respond to small moving objects using an antagonistic motion-based center-surround mechanism. Unilateral activation of LC10 neurons recapitulates the orienting and ipsilateral wing extension normally elicited by females, and the potency with which LC10 induces wing extension is enhanced in a state of courtship arousal controlled by male-specific P1 neurons. These data suggest that LC10 is a major pathway relaying visual input to the courtship circuits in the male brain.

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01/11/18 | Persistent activity in a recurrent circuit underlies courtship memory in Drosophila.
Zhao X, Lenek D, Dag U, Dickson B, Keleman K
eLife. 2018 Jan 11;7:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.31425

Recurrent connections are thought to be a common feature of the neural circuits that encode memories, but how memories are laid down in such circuits is not fully understood. Here we present evidence that courtship memory in Drosophila relies on the recurrent circuit between mushroom body gamma (MBg), M6 output, and aSP13 dopaminergic neurons. We demonstrate persistent neuronal activity of aSP13 neurons and show that it transiently potentiates synaptic transmission from MBγ>M6 neurons. M6 neurons in turn provide input to aSP13 neurons, prolonging potentiation of MBγ>M6 synapses over time periods that match short-term memory. These data support a model in which persistent aSP13 activity within a recurrent circuit lays the foundation for a short-term memory.

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03/06/17 | Moonwalker descending neurons mediate visually evoked retreat in Drosophila.
Sen R, Wu M, Branson K, Robie A, Rubin GM, Dickson BJ
Current Biology : CB. 2017 Mar 6;27(5):766-71. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.02.008

Insects, like most animals, tend to steer away from imminent threats [1-7]. Drosophila melanogaster, for example, generally initiate an escape take-off in response to a looming visual stimulus, mimicking a potential predator [8]. The escape response to a visual threat is, however, flexible [9-12] and can alternatively consist of walking backward away from the perceived threat [11], which may be a more effective response to ambush predators such as nymphal praying mantids [7]. Flexibility in escape behavior may also add an element of unpredictability that makes it difficult for predators to anticipate or learn the prey's likely response [3-6]. Whereas the fly's escape jump has been well studied [8, 9, 13-18], the neuronal underpinnings of evasive walking remain largely unexplored. We previously reported the identification of a cluster of descending neurons-the moonwalker descending neurons (MDNs)-the activity of which is necessary and sufficient to trigger backward walking [19], as well as a population of visual projection neurons-the lobula columnar 16 (LC16) cells-that respond to looming visual stimuli and elicit backward walking and turning [11]. Given the similarity of their activation phenotypes, we hypothesized that LC16 neurons induce backward walking via MDNs and that turning while walking backward might reflect asymmetric activation of the left and right MDNs. Here, we present data from functional imaging, behavioral epistasis, and unilateral activation experiments that support these hypotheses. We conclude that LC16 and MDNs are critical components of the neural circuit that transduces threatening visual stimuli into directional locomotor output.

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