Animals use acoustic signals across a variety of social behaviors, particularly courtship. In Drosophila, song is detected by antennal mechanosensory neurons and further processed by second-order aPN1/aLN(al) neurons. However, little is known about the central pathways mediating courtship hearing. In this study, we identified a male-specific pathway for courtship hearing via third-order ventrolateral protocerebrum Projection Neuron 1 (vPN1) neurons and fourth-order pC1 neurons. Genetic inactivation of vPN1 or pC1 disrupts song-induced male-chaining behavior. Calcium imaging reveals that vPN1 responds preferentially to pulse song with long inter-pulse intervals (IPIs), while pC1 responses to pulse song closely match the behavioral chaining responses at different IPIs. Moreover, genetic activation of either vPN1 or pC1 induced courtship chaining, mimicking the behavioral response to song. These results outline the aPN1-vPN1-pC1 pathway as a labeled line for the processing and transformation of courtship song in males.
Keywords: D. melanogaster; auditory sensation; courtship; courtship song; neuroscience.