Phototactic personality in fruit flies and its suppression by serotonin and white

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Nov 27;109(48):19834-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211988109. Epub 2012 Nov 13.


Drosophila typically move toward light (phototax positively) when startled. The various species of Drosophila exhibit some variation in their respective mean phototactic behaviors; however, it is not clear to what extent genetically identical individuals within each species behave idiosyncratically. Such behavioral individuality has indeed been observed in laboratory arthropods; however, the neurobiological factors underlying individual-to-individual behavioral differences are unknown. We developed "FlyVac," a high-throughput device for automatically assessing phototaxis in single animals in parallel. We observed surprising variability within every species and strain tested, including identically reared, isogenic strains. In an extreme example, a domesticated strain of Drosophila simulans harbored both strongly photopositive and strongly photonegative individuals. The particular behavior of an individual fly is not heritable and, because it persists for its lifetime, constitutes a model system for elucidating the molecular mechanisms of personality. Although all strains assayed had greater than expected variation (assuming binomial sampling), some had more than others, implying a genetic basis. Using genetics and pharmacology, we identified the metabolite transporter White and white-dependent serotonin as suppressors of phototactic personality. Because we observed behavioral idiosyncrasy in all experimental groups, we suspect it is present in most behaviors of most animals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / genetics
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Drosophila / physiology*
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Eye Proteins / genetics
  • Light*
  • Serotonin / physiology*


  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Eye Proteins
  • w protein, Drosophila
  • Serotonin