Capacity of visual classical conditioning in Drosophila larvae

Behav Neurosci. 2011 Dec;125(6):921-9. doi: 10.1037/a0025758. Epub 2011 Oct 3.


Vision is an ancient sense essential for various aspects of animal behavior. Visual information not only leads to immediate, temporary, and rapid behavioral responses but also has lasting effects. Naïve behavioral responses to light are not always identical but can be altered based on positive or negative experience-a process defined as visual learning. In this study, Drosophila larvae were used as a simple model to study visual classical conditioning. We show that larvae are able to associate positive or negative cues with either light or darkness, thus changing their native light-preference. This effect can be robustly provoked through gustatory stimuli and electric shock. We further show that light can not only be used as a conditioned stimulus but also as an unconditioned stimulus, as punishment in the olfactory classical conditioning procedure, possibly forming two different kinds of memories. Our findings show that even though larvae show a strong naïve response when exposed to light, the animals display a comparably large repertoire of visual memories that can be formed. Therefore, our study provides an impacting entry point into the genetic dissection of the neuronal circuit that underlies different types of visual learning.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Larva
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Taste Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*