Distinct sensory representations of wind and near-field sound in the Drosophila brain

Nature. 2009 Mar 12;458(7235):201-5. doi: 10.1038/nature07843.


Behavioural responses to wind are thought to have a critical role in controlling the dispersal and population genetics of wild Drosophila species, as well as their navigation in flight, but their underlying neurobiological basis is unknown. We show that Drosophila melanogaster, like wild-caught Drosophila strains, exhibits robust wind-induced suppression of locomotion in response to air currents delivered at speeds normally encountered in nature. Here we identify wind-sensitive neurons in Johnston's organ, an antennal mechanosensory structure previously implicated in near-field sound detection (reviewed in refs 5 and 6). Using enhancer trap lines targeted to different subsets of Johnston's organ neurons, and a genetically encoded calcium indicator, we show that wind and near-field sound (courtship song) activate distinct populations of Johnston's organ neurons, which project to different regions of the antennal and mechanosensory motor centre in the central brain. Selective genetic ablation of wind-sensitive Johnston's organ neurons in the antenna abolishes wind-induced suppression of locomotion behaviour, without impairing hearing. Moreover, different neuronal subsets within the wind-sensitive population respond to different directions of arista deflection caused by air flow and project to different regions of the antennal and mechanosensory motor centre, providing a rudimentary map of wind direction in the brain. Importantly, sound- and wind-sensitive Johnston's organ neurons exhibit different intrinsic response properties: the former are phasically activated by small, bi-directional, displacements of the aristae, whereas the latter are tonically activated by unidirectional, static deflections of larger magnitude. These different intrinsic properties are well suited to the detection of oscillatory pulses of near-field sound and laminar air flow, respectively. These data identify wind-sensitive neurons in Johnston's organ, a structure that has been primarily associated with hearing, and reveal how the brain can distinguish different types of air particle movements using a common sensory organ.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air Movements*
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / physiology
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*