The role of dopamine in Drosophila larval classical olfactory conditioning

PLoS One. 2009 Jun 12;4(6):e5897. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005897.


Learning and memory is not an attribute of higher animals. Even Drosophila larvae are able to form and recall an association of a given odor with an aversive or appetitive gustatory reinforcer. As the Drosophila larva has turned into a particularly simple model for studying odor processing, a detailed neuronal and functional map of the olfactory pathway is available up to the third order neurons in the mushroom bodies. At this point, a convergence of olfactory processing and gustatory reinforcement is suggested to underlie associative memory formation. The dopaminergic system was shown to be involved in mammalian and insect olfactory conditioning. To analyze the anatomy and function of the larval dopaminergic system, we first characterize dopaminergic neurons immunohistochemically up to the single cell level and subsequent test for the effects of distortions in the dopamine system upon aversive (odor-salt) as well as appetitive (odor-sugar) associative learning. Single cell analysis suggests that dopaminergic neurons do not directly connect gustatory input in the larval suboesophageal ganglion to olfactory information in the mushroom bodies. However, a number of dopaminergic neurons innervate different regions of the brain, including protocerebra, mushroom bodies and suboesophageal ganglion. We found that dopamine receptors are highly enriched in the mushroom bodies and that aversive and appetitive olfactory learning is strongly impaired in dopamine receptor mutants. Genetically interfering with dopaminergic signaling supports this finding, although our data do not exclude on naïve odor and sugar preferences of the larvae. Our data suggest that dopaminergic neurons provide input to different brain regions including protocerebra, suboesophageal ganglion and mushroom bodies by more than one route. We therefore propose that different types of dopaminergic neurons might be involved in different types of signaling necessary for aversive and appetitive olfactory memory formation respectively, or for the retrieval of these memory traces. Future studies of the dopaminergic system need to take into account such cellular dissociations in function in order to be meaningful.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Brain / embryology
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Drosophila / embryology*
  • Drosophila / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Genotype
  • Larva / metabolism*
  • Memory
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Receptors, Dopamine / metabolism
  • Receptors, Dopamine / physiology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Smell / physiology*


  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Dopamine