Excitatory and inhibitory switches for courtship in the brain of Drosophila melanogaster

Curr Biol. 2004 Apr 6;14(7):538-47. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2004.03.037.


Background: Courtship is the best-studied behavior in Drosophila melanogaster, and work on its anatomical basis has concentrated mainly on the functional identification of sexually dimorphic sites in the brain. Much less is known of the more expansive, nondimorphic, but nonetheless essential, neural elements subserving male courtship behavior.

Results: Sites in the CNS mediating initiation and early steps of male courtship in Drosophila melanogaster were identified by analyzing the behavior of mosaic flies expressing transgenes designed either to suppress neurotransmission or enhance neuronal excitability. Suppression of neurotransmission was accomplished by means of the dominantly acting, temperature-sensitive dynamin mutation shibire(ts1), whereas enhanced neuronal excitability was produced by means of a novel, dominantly acting, truncated eag potassium channel. By using a new, landmark-based procedure for aligning diverse expression patterns among the various mosaic strains, a comparison of courtship performance and affected brain sites in strains expressing the transgenes identified a cluster of cells in the posterior lateral protocerebrum that exerts reciprocal effects on the initiation of courtship, suppressing it when they are inactivated and enhancing it when they are hyperactivated, indicative of cells that normally play an excitatory, triggering role. A separate group of nearby cells, slightly more anterior in the lateral protocerebrum, was found to inhibit courtship when its activity is enhanced, indicative of an inhibitory role in courtship.

Conclusions: A cluster of cells, some excitatory and some inhibitory, in the lateral protocerebrum regulates courtship initiation in Drosophila. These cells are likely to be an integration center for the multiple sensory inputs that trigger male courtship.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism*
  • Drosophila Proteins / physiology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Dynamins / metabolism*
  • Dynamins / physiology
  • Ether-A-Go-Go Potassium Channels
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Neural Inhibition / genetics
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Potassium Channels / metabolism*
  • Potassium Channels / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / genetics
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Transgenes


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Ether-A-Go-Go Potassium Channels
  • Potassium Channels
  • eag protein, Drosophila
  • Dynamins
  • shi protein, Drosophila