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In most animals, the brain makes behavioral decisions that are transmitted by descending neurons to the nerve cord circuitry that produces behaviors. In insects, only a few descending neurons have been associated with specific behaviors. To explore how descending neurons control an insect's movements, we developed a novel method to systematically assay the behavioral effects of activating individual neurons on freely behaving terrestrial D. melanogaster. We calculated a two-dimensional representation of the entire behavior space explored by these flies and we associated descending neurons with specific behaviors by identifying regions of this space that were visited with increased frequency during optogenetic activation. Applying this approach across a large collection of descending neurons, we found that (1) activation of most of the descending neurons drove stereotyped behaviors, (2) in many cases multiple descending neurons activated similar behaviors, and (3) optogenetically-activated behaviors were often dependent on the behavioral state prior to activation.
PMID: 29943729 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
First published in bioRxiv: http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/230128 on January 5, 2018.