Bilaterally symmetric motor patterns--those in which left-right pairs of muscles contract synchronously and with equal amplitude (such as breathing, smiling, whisking, and locomotion)--are widespread throughout the animal kingdom. Yet, surprisingly little is known about the underlying neural circuits. We performed a thermogenetic screen to identify neurons required for bilaterally symmetric locomotion in Drosophila larvae and identified the evolutionarily conserved Even-skipped(+) interneurons (Eve/Evx). Activation or ablation of Eve(+) interneurons disrupted bilaterally symmetric muscle contraction amplitude, without affecting the timing of motor output. Eve(+) interneurons are not rhythmically active and thus function independently of the locomotor CPG. GCaMP6 calcium imaging of Eve(+) interneurons in freely moving larvae showed left-right asymmetric activation that correlated with larval behavior. TEM reconstruction of Eve(+) interneuron inputs and outputs showed that the Eve(+) interneurons are at the core of a sensorimotor circuit capable of detecting and modifying body wall muscle contraction.
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