Tachykinin-expressing neurons control male-specific aggressive arousal in Drosophila

Cell. 2014 Jan 16;156(1-2):221-35. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2013.11.045.


Males of most species are more aggressive than females, but the neural mechanisms underlying this dimorphism are not clear. Here, we identify a neuron and a gene that control the higher level of aggression characteristic of Drosophila melanogaster males. Males, but not females, contain a small cluster of FruM(+) neurons that express the neuropeptide tachykinin (Tk). Activation and silencing of these neurons increased and decreased, respectively, intermale aggression without affecting male-female courtship behavior. Mutations in both Tk and a candidate receptor, Takr86C, suppressed the effect of neuronal activation, whereas overexpression of Tk potentiated it. Tk neuron activation overcame reduced aggressiveness caused by eliminating a variety of sensory or contextual cues, suggesting that it promotes aggressive arousal or motivation. Tachykinin/Substance P has been implicated in aggression in mammals, including humans. Thus, the higher aggressiveness of Drosophila males reflects the sexually dimorphic expression of a neuropeptide that controls agonistic behaviors across phylogeny.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression
  • Animals
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mutation
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Tachykinin / genetics
  • Receptors, Tachykinin / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Tachykinins / metabolism*


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Receptors, Tachykinin
  • Tachykinins
  • TkR86C protein, Drosophila