The development of the Drosophila olfactory system is a striking example of how genetic programs specify a large number of different neuron types and assemble them into functional circuits. To ensure precise odorant perception, each sensory neuron has to not only select a single olfactory receptor (OR) type out of a large genomic repertoire but also segregate its synaptic connections in the brain according to the OR class identity. Specification and patterning of second-order interneurons in the olfactory brain center occur largely independent of sensory input, followed by a precise point-to-point matching of sensory and relay neurons. Here we describe recent progress in the understanding of how cell-intrinsic differentiation programs and context-dependent cellular interactions generate a stereotyped sensory map in the Drosophila brain. Recent findings revealed an astonishing morphological diversity among members of the same interneuron class, suggesting an unexpected variability in local microcircuits involved in insect sensory processing.
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