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Circuit mechanisms of behavioural variability in Drosophila flight.

Project description

Drosophila flight: from sensory input to behavioural response

The neural mechanisms connecting incoming sensory information and behavioural response are not well understood in most organisms. The European Research Council-funded MOBY-FLY project will investigate neural mechanisms in body saccades of fruit flies, a widely used model system. A body saccade is a quick, intermittent turning behaviour during flight, a change of direction in response to certain stimuli. Since this behaviour can be replicated in head-fixed flying flies, neuronal activity can be recorded simultaneously. MOBY-FLY will build on previous identification of a neuron whose activity is strongly correlated with saccadic turns during head-fixed flight. Combining manipulation of sensory input and genetics with recording of neuronal activity will shed light on the pathway from sensory input to behavioural response.


While sensory systems report sensory input with high reliability, behavioural responses are inherently variable. How this variability arises and how behavioural decisions are formed, is not well understood in any organism. I will use the fruit fly Drosophila as a model system to study how a specific behaviour is initiated depending on external stimuli and behavioural state. During flight, flies change direction to avoid dangers or search for food with a fast turning response called saccade. This behaviour can be replicated in head-fixed flying flies, where saccades are measured as fast changes in wing stroke amplitude, which allows for simultaneous recordings of neuronal activity. However, the neuronal circuits underlying the execution of saccades in the fly brain are not known. Previously, I have discovered a descending neuron, whose activity is strongly correlated with saccadic turns during head-fixed flight. I will use novel anatomical tools and the available EM data sets to find the neurons, which provide input to this descending neuron and which control saccades. I will then record their activity using both 2-photon Calcium imaging of a genetically encoded indicator and whole-cell patch-clamp recordings during flight. At the same time, I will present a panel of multisensory stimuli, while monitoring turning behaviour. This will allow me to test under which stimulus conditions and internal states these neurons are active and whether their activity is more closely correlated with sensory input or behavioural output. To test for the contribution of these neurons to the execution of saccades, I will use genetic tools to manipulate their activity during tethered as well as free flight. This comprehensive approach will allow me to study, which neurons control saccadic turns and at which processing stage behavioural decisions are made and will provide general insights into how information is processed along the sensory-to-motor pathway and how behaviour is initiated.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 500 000,00
80539 Munchen

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Bayern Oberbayern München, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 1 500 000,00

Beneficiaries (1)