Associative learning and memory in Drosophila: beyond olfactory conditioning

Behav Processes. 2003 Sep 29;64(2):225-238. doi: 10.1016/s0376-6357(03)00137-2.


The associative learning abilities of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, have been demonstrated in both classical and operant conditioning paradigms. Efforts to identify the neural pathways and cellular mechanisms of learning have focused largely on olfactory classical conditioning. Results derived from various genetic and molecular manipulations provide considerable evidence that this form of associative learning depends critically on neural activity and cAMP signaling in brain neuropil structures called mushroom bodies. Three other behavioral learning paradigms in Drosophila serve as the main subject of this review. These are (1) visual and motor learning of flies tethered in a flight simulator, (2) a form of spatial learning that is independent of visual and olfactory cues, and (3) experience-dependent changes in male courtship behavior. The present evidence suggests that at least some of these modes of learning are independent of mushroom bodies. Applying targeted genetic manipulations to these behavioral paradigms should allow for a more comprehensive understanding of neural mechanisms responsible for diverse forms of associative learning and memory.