Main Menu (Mobile)- Block
Main Menu - Block
Knowledge of one’s own behavioral state—whether one is walking, grooming, or resting—is critical for contextualizing sensory cues including interpreting visual motion and tracking odor sources. Additionally, awareness of one’s own posture is important to avoid initiating destabilizing or physically impossible actions. Ascending neurons (ANs), interneurons in the vertebrate spinal cord or insect ventral nerve cord (VNC) that project to the brain, may provide such high-fidelity behavioral state signals. However, little is known about what ANs encode and where they convey signals in any brain. To address this gap, we performed a large-scale functional screen of AN movement encoding, brain targeting, and motor system patterning in the adult fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Using a new library of AN sparse driver lines, we measured the functional properties of 247 genetically-identifiable ANs by performing two-photon microscopy recordings of neural activity in tethered, behaving flies. Quantitative, deep network-based neural and behavioral analyses revealed that ANs nearly exclusively encode high-level behaviors—primarily walking as well as resting and grooming—rather than low-level joint or limb movements. ANs that convey self-motion—resting, walking, and responses to gust-like puff stimuli—project to the brain’s anterior ventrolateral protocerebrum (AVLP), a multimodal, integrative sensory hub, while those that encode discrete actions—eye grooming, turning, and proboscis extension—project to the brain’s gnathal ganglion (GNG), a locus for action selection. The structure and polarity of AN projections within the VNC are predictive of their functional encoding and imply that ANs participate in motor computations while also relaying state signals to the brain. Illustrative of this are ANs that temporally integrate proboscis extensions over tens-of-seconds, likely through recurrent interconnectivity. Thus, in line with long-held theoretical predictions, ascending populations convey high-level behavioral state signals almost exclusively to brain regions implicated in sensory feature contextualization and action selection.