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3 Janelia Publications

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    03/14/22 | A population of descending neurons that regulates the flight motor of Drosophila.
    Namiki S, Ros IG, Morrow C, Rowell WJ, Card GM, Korff W, Dickinson MH
    Current Biology. 2022 Mar 14;32(5):1189-1196. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.01.008

    Similar to many insect species, Drosophila melanogaster is capable of maintaining a stable flight trajectory for periods lasting up to several hours. Because aerodynamic torque is roughly proportional to the fifth power of wing length, even small asymmetries in wing size require the maintenance of subtle bilateral differences in flapping motion to maintain a stable path. Flies can even fly straight after losing half of a wing, a feat they accomplish via very large, sustained kinematic changes to both the damaged and intact wings. Thus, the neural network responsible for stable flight must be capable of sustaining fine-scaled control over wing motion across a large dynamic range. In this study, we describe an unusual type of descending neuron (DNg02) that projects directly from visual output regions of the brain to the dorsal flight neuropil of the ventral nerve cord. Unlike many descending neurons, which exist as single bilateral pairs with unique morphology, there is a population of at least 15 DNg02 cell pairs with nearly identical shape. By optogenetically activating different numbers of DNg02 cells, we demonstrate that these neurons regulate wingbeat amplitude over a wide dynamic range via a population code. Using two-photon functional imaging, we show that DNg02 cells are responsive to visual motion during flight in a manner that would make them well suited to continuously regulate bilateral changes in wing kinematics. Collectively, we have identified a critical set of descending neurons that provides the sensitivity and dynamic range required for flight control.

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    11/17/20 | Multi-regional circuits underlying visually guided decision-making in Drosophila.
    Cheong H, Siwanowicz I, Card GM
    Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 2020 Nov 17;65:77-87. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2020.10.010

    Visually guided decision-making requires integration of information from distributed brain areas, necessitating a brain-wide approach to examine its neural mechanisms. New tools in Drosophila melanogaster enable circuits spanning the brain to be charted with single cell-type resolution. Here, we highlight recent advances uncovering the computations and circuits that transform and integrate visual information across the brain to make behavioral choices. Visual information flows from the optic lobes to three primary central brain regions: a sensorimotor mapping area and two 'higher' centers for memory or spatial orientation. Rapid decision-making during predator evasion emerges from the spike timing dynamics in parallel sensorimotor cascades. Goal-directed decisions may occur through memory, navigation and valence processing in the central complex and mushroom bodies.

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    06/26/18 | The functional organization of descending sensory-motor pathways in Drosophila.
    Namiki S, Dickinson MH, Wong AM, Korff W, Card GM
    eLife. 2018 Jun 26:e34272. doi: 10.7554/eLife.34272

    In most animals, the brain controls the body via a set of descending neurons (DNs) that traverse the neck. DN activity activates, maintains or modulates locomotion and other behaviors. Individual DNs have been well-studied in species from insects to primates, but little is known about overall connectivity patterns across the DN population. We systematically investigated DN anatomy in Drosophila melanogaster and created over 100 transgenic lines targeting individual cell types. We identified roughly half of all Drosophila DNs and comprehensively map connectivity between sensory and motor neuropils in the brain and nerve cord, respectively. We find the nerve cord is a layered system of neuropils reflecting the fly's capability for two largely independent means of locomotion -- walking and flight -- using distinct sets of appendages. Our results reveal the basic functional map of descending pathways in flies and provide tools for systematic interrogation of neural circuits.

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