At the onset of each flight bout in flies, neural circuits in the CNS must rapidly integrate multimodal sensory stimuli and synchronously engage hinges of the left and right wings for coordinated wing movements. Whereas anatomical and physiological investigations of flight have been conducted on larger flies, molecular genetic studies in Drosophila have helped identify neurons that mediate various levels of flight control. However, neurons that might mediate bilateral coordination of wing movements to precisely synchronize left and right wing engagement at flight onset and maintain their movement in perfect coordination at rapid frequencies during flight maneuvers remain largely unexplored. Wing coordination could be directly modulated via bilateral sensory inputs to motoneurons of steering muscles and/or through central interneurons. Using a Ca(2+)-activity-based GFP reporter, we identified three flight-activated central dopaminergic interneurons in the ventral ganglion, which connect to and activate motoneurons that innervate a pair of direct-steering flight muscles. The activation of these newly identified dopaminergic interneurons is context specific. Whereas bilateral wing engagement for flight requires these neurons, they do not control unilateral wing extension during courtship. Thus, independent central circuits function in the context of different natural behaviors to control the motor circuit for Drosophila wing movement.
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