Behavioral analyses of sugar processing in choice, feeding, and learning in larval Drosophila

Chem Senses. 2008 Jul;33(6):563-73. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjn024. Epub 2008 May 29.


Gustatory stimuli have at least 2 kinds of function: They can support immediate, reflexive responses (such as substrate choice and feeding) and they can drive internal reinforcement. We provide behavioral analyses of these functions with respect to sweet taste in larval Drosophila. The idea is to use the dose-effect characteristics as behavioral "fingerprints" to dissociate reflexive and reinforcing functions. For glucose and trehalose, we uncover relatively weak preference. In contrast, for fructose and sucrose, preference responses are strong and the effects on feeding pronounced. Specifically, larvae are attracted to, and feeding is stimulated most strongly for, intermediate concentrations of either sugar: Using very high concentrations (4 M) results in weakened preference and suppression of feeding. In contrast to such an optimum function regarding choice and feeding, an asymptotic dose-effect function is found for reinforcement learning: Learning scores reach asymptote at 2 M and remain stable for a 4-M concentration. A similar parametric discrepancy between the reflexive (choice and feeding) and reinforcing function is also seen for sodium chloride (Niewalda T, Singhal S, Fiala A, Saumweber T, Wegener S, Gerber B, in preparation). We discuss whether these discrepancies are based either on inhibition from high-osmolarity sensors upon specifically the reflexive pathways or whether different sensory pathways, with different effective dose-response characteristics, may have preferential access to drive either reflex responses or modulatory neurons mediating internal reinforcement, respectively.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed
  • Animals
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism*
  • Carbohydrates / analysis
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / growth & development
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Larva / physiology
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Taste Perception / physiology


  • Carbohydrates