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1 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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