Systems neuroscience in Drosophila: Conceptual and technical advantages

Neuroscience. 2015 Jun 18;296:3-14. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2014.06.035. Epub 2014 Jun 25.


The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is ideally suited for investigating the neural circuit basis of behavior. Due to the simplicity and genetic tractability of the fly brain, neurons and circuits are identifiable across animals. Additionally, a large set of transgenic lines has been developed with the aim of specifically labeling small subsets of neurons and manipulating them in sophisticated ways. Electrophysiology and imaging can be applied in behaving individuals to examine the computations performed by each neuron, and even the entire population of relevant neurons in a particular region, because of the small size of the brain. Moreover, a rich repertoire of behaviors that can be studied is expanding to include those requiring cognitive abilities. Thus, the fly brain is an attractive system in which to explore both computations and mechanisms underlying behavior at levels spanning from genes through neurons to circuits. This review summarizes the advantages Drosophila offers in achieving this objective. A recent neurophysiology study on olfactory behavior is also introduced to demonstrate the effectiveness of these advantages.

Keywords: Drosophila; behavioral physiology; genetically identified neurons; neuronal connectivity; population codes; systems neuroscience.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology / methods
  • Genetic Techniques
  • Models, Animal
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neurosciences / methods
  • Olfactory Perception / genetics
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology