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5 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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    01/01/21 | Neural circuit mechanisms of sexual receptivity in Drosophila females.
    Wang K, Wang F, Forknall N, Yang T, Patrick C, Parekh R, Dickson BJ
    Nature. 2021 Jan 01;589(7843):577-81. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2972-7

    Choosing a mate is one of the most consequential decisions a female will make during her lifetime. A female fly signals her willingness to mate by opening her vaginal plates, allowing a courting male to copulate. Vaginal plate opening (VPO) occurs in response to the male courtship song and is dependent on the mating status of the female. How these exteroceptive (song) and interoceptive (mating status) inputs are integrated to regulate VPO remains unknown. Here we characterize the neural circuitry that implements mating decisions in the brain of female Drosophila melanogaster. We show that VPO is controlled by a pair of female-specific descending neurons (vpoDNs). The vpoDNs receive excitatory input from auditory neurons (vpoENs), which are tuned to specific features of the D. melanogaster song, and from pC1 neurons, which encode the mating status of the female. The song responses of vpoDNs, but not vpoENs, are attenuated upon mating, accounting for the reduced receptivity of mated females. This modulation is mediated by pC1 neurons. The vpoDNs thus directly integrate the external and internal signals that control the mating decisions of Drosophila females.

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    10/05/20 | Circuit and behavioral mechanisms of sexual rejection by drosophila females.
    Wang F, Wang K, Forknall N, Parekh R, Dickson BJ
    Current Biology. 2020 Oct 05;30(19):. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.07.083

    The mating decisions of Drosophila melanogaster females are primarily revealed through either of two discrete actions: opening of the vaginal plates to allow copulation, or extrusion of the ovipositor to reject the male. Both actions are triggered by the male courtship song, and both are dependent upon the female's mating status. Virgin females are more likely to open their vaginal plates in response to song; mated females are more likely to extrude their ovipositor. Here, we examine the neural cause and behavioral consequence of ovipositor extrusion. We show that the DNp13 descending neurons act as command-type neurons for ovipositor extrusion, and that ovipositor extrusion is an effective deterrent only when performed by females that have previously mated. The DNp13 neurons respond to male song via direct synaptic input from the pC2l auditory neurons. Mating status does not modulate the song responses of DNp13 neurons, but rather how effectively they can engage the motor circuits for ovipositor extrusion. We present evidence that mating status information is mediated by ppk sensory neurons in the uterus, which are activated upon ovulation. Vaginal plate opening and ovipositor extrusion are thus controlled by anatomically and functionally distinct circuits, highlighting the diversity of neural decision-making circuits even in the context of closely related behaviors with shared exteroceptive and interoceptive inputs.

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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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    11/14/19 | Nitric oxide acts as a cotransmitter in a subset of dopaminergic neurons to diversify memory dynamics.
    Aso Y, Ray RP, Long X, Bushey D, Cichewicz K, Ngo T, Sharp B, Christoforou C, Hu A, Lemire AL, Tillberg P, Hirsh J, Litwin-Kumar A, Rubin GM
    eLife. 2019 Nov 14;8:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.49257

    Animals employ diverse learning rules and synaptic plasticity dynamics to record temporal and statistical information about the world. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying this diversity are poorly understood. The anatomically defined compartments of the insect mushroom body function as parallel units of associative learning, with different learning rates, memory decay dynamics and flexibility (Aso & Rubin 2016). Here we show that nitric oxide (NO) acts as a neurotransmitter in a subset of dopaminergic neurons in . NO's effects develop more slowly than those of dopamine and depend on soluble guanylate cyclase in postsynaptic Kenyon cells. NO acts antagonistically to dopamine; it shortens memory retention and facilitates the rapid updating of memories. The interplay of NO and dopamine enables memories stored in local domains along Kenyon cell axons to be specialized for predicting the value of odors based only on recent events. Our results provide key mechanistic insights into how diverse memory dynamics are established in parallel memory systems.

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