Light-induced activation of distinct modulatory neurons triggers appetitive or aversive learning in Drosophila larvae

Curr Biol. 2006 Sep 5;16(17):1741-7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.07.023.


During classical conditioning, a positive or negative value is assigned to a previously neutral stimulus, thereby changing its significance for behavior. If an odor is associated with a negative stimulus, it can become repulsive. Conversely, an odor associated with a reward can become attractive. By using Drosophila larvae as a model system with minimal brain complexity, we address the question of which neurons attribute these values to odor stimuli. In insects, dopaminergic neurons are required for aversive learning, whereas octopaminergic neurons are necessary and sufficient for appetitive learning. However, it remains unclear whether two independent neuronal populations are sufficient to mediate such antagonistic values. We report the use of transgenically expressed channelrhodopsin-2, a light-activated cation channel, as a tool for optophysiological stimulation of genetically defined neuronal populations in Drosophila larvae. We demonstrate that distinct neuronal populations can be activated simply by illuminating the animals with blue light. Light-induced activation of dopaminergic neurons paired with an odor stimulus induces aversive memory formation, whereas activation of octopaminergic/tyraminergic neurons induces appetitive memory formation. These findings demonstrate that antagonistic modulatory subsystems are sufficient to substitute for aversive and appetitive reinforcement during classical conditioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Chemotaxis / physiology
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Drosophila / physiology*
  • Larva / physiology*
  • Light*
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Perception / physiology
  • Rhodopsins, Microbial / physiology


  • Rhodopsins, Microbial