Olfactory modulation of flight in Drosophila is sensitive, selective and rapid.
Freely flying Drosophila melanogaster respond to odors by increasing their flight speed and turning upwind. Both these flight behaviors can be recapitulated in a tethered fly, which permits the odor stimulus to be precisely controlled. In this study, we investigated the relationship between these behaviors and odor-evoked activity in primary sensory neurons. First, we verified that these behaviors are abolished by mutations that silence olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs). We also found that antennal mechanosensors in Johnston's organ are required to guide upwind turns. Flight responses to an odor depend on the identity of the ORNs that are active, meaning that these behaviors involve odor discrimination and not just odor detection. Flight modulation can begin rapidly (within about 85 ms) after the onset of olfactory transduction. Moreover, just a handful of spikes in a single ORN type is sufficient to trigger these behaviors. Finally, we found that the upwind turn is triggered independently from the increase in wingbeat frequency, implying that ORN signals diverge to activate two independent and parallel motor commands. Together, our results show that odor-evoked flight modulations are rapid and sensitive responses to specific patterns of sensory neuron activity. This makes these behaviors a useful paradigm for studying the relationship between sensory neuron activity and behavioral decision-making in a simple and genetically tractable organism.
Bhandawat, V; Maimon, G; Dickinson, MH; Wilson, RI
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