The characteristic crawling behavior of Drosophila larvae consists of a series of rhythmic waves of peristalsis and episodes of head swinging and turning. The two biogenic amines octopamine and tyramine have recently been shown to modulate various parameters of locomotion, such as muscle contraction, the time spent in pausing or forward locomotion, and the initiation and maintenance of rhythmic motor patterns. By using mutants having altered octopamine and tyramine levels and by genetic interference with both systems we confirm that signaling of these two amines is necessary for larval locomotion. We show that a small set of about 40 octopaminergic/tyraminergic neurons within the ventral nerve cord is sufficient to trigger proper larval locomotion. Using single-cell clones, we describe the morphology of these neurons individually. Given various potential roles of octopamine and tyramine in the larval brain, such as locomotion, learning and memory, stress-induced behaviors or the regulation of the energy state, functions that are often not easy to discriminate, we dissect here for the first time a subset of this complex circuit that modulates specifically larval locomotion. Thus, these data will help to understand-for a given neuronal modulator-how specific behavioral functions are executed within distinct subcircuits of a complex neuronal network.
Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.