Neural Control and Precision of Flight Muscle Activation in Drosophila

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2017 Jan;203(1):1-14. doi: 10.1007/s00359-016-1133-9. Epub 2016 Dec 9.


Precision of motor commands is highly relevant in a large context of various locomotor behaviors, including stabilization of body posture, heading control and directed escape responses. While posture stability and heading control in walking and swimming animals benefit from high friction via ground reaction forces and elevated viscosity of water, respectively, flying animals have to cope with comparatively little aerodynamic friction on body and wings. Although low frictional damping in flight is the key to the extraordinary aerial performance and agility of flying birds, bats and insects, it challenges these animals with extraordinary demands on sensory integration and motor precision. Our review focuses on the dynamic precision with which Drosophila activates its flight muscular system during maneuvering flight, considering relevant studies on neural and muscular mechanisms of thoracic propulsion. In particular, we tackle the precision with which flies adjust power output of asynchronous power muscles and synchronous flight control muscles by monitoring muscle calcium and spike timing within the stroke cycle. A substantial proportion of the review is engaged in the significance of visual and proprioceptive feedback loops for wing motion control including sensory integration at the cellular level. We highlight that sensory feedback is the basis for precise heading control and body stability in flies.

Keywords: Drosophila; Insect flight; Muscle activation timing; Muscle power control; Wing kinematics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila / physiology*
  • Feedback, Sensory / physiology
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Wings, Animal / physiology*