GABAergic Local Interneurons Shape Female Fruit Fly Response to Mating Songs

J Neurosci. 2018 May 2;38(18):4329-4347. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3644-17.2018. Epub 2018 Apr 24.


Many animals use acoustic signals to attract a potential mating partner. In fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), the courtship pulse song has a species-specific interpulse interval (IPI) that activates mating. Although a series of auditory neurons in the fly brain exhibit different tuning patterns to IPIs, it is unclear how the response of each neuron is tuned. Here, we studied the neural circuitry regulating the activity of antennal mechanosensory and motor center (AMMC)-B1 neurons, key secondary auditory neurons in the excitatory neural pathway that relay song information. By performing Ca2+ imaging in female flies, we found that the IPI selectivity observed in AMMC-B1 neurons differs from that of upstream auditory sensory neurons [Johnston's organ (JO)-B]. Selective knock-down of a GABAA receptor subunit in AMMC-B1 neurons increased their response to short IPIs, suggesting that GABA suppresses AMMC-B1 activity at these IPIs. Connection mapping identified two GABAergic local interneurons that synapse with AMMC-B1 and JO-B. Ca2+ imaging combined with neuronal silencing revealed that these local interneurons, AMMC-LN and AMMC-B2, shape the response pattern of AMMC-B1 neurons at a 15 ms IPI. Neuronal silencing studies further suggested that both GABAergic local interneurons suppress the behavioral response to artificial pulse songs in flies, particularly those with a 15 ms IPI. Altogether, we identified a circuit containing two GABAergic local interneurons that affects the temporal tuning of AMMC-B1 neurons in the song relay pathway and the behavioral response to the courtship song. Our findings suggest that feedforward inhibitory pathways adjust the behavioral response to courtship pulse songs in female flies.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT To understand how the brain detects time intervals between sound elements, we studied the neural pathway that relays species-specific courtship song information in female Drosophila melanogaster We demonstrate that the signal transmission from auditory sensory neurons to key secondary auditory neurons antennal mechanosensory and motor center (AMMC)-B1 is the first-step to generate time interval selectivity of neurons in the song relay pathway. Two GABAergic local interneurons are suggested to shape the interval selectivity of AMMC-B1 neurons by receiving auditory inputs and in turn providing feedforward inhibition onto AMMC-B1 neurons. Furthermore, these GABAergic local interneurons suppress the song response behavior in an interval-dependent manner. Our results provide new insights into the neural circuit basis to adjust neuronal and behavioral responses to a species-specific communication sound.

Keywords: Drosophila melanogaster; auditory neurons; courtship song; feedforward inhibition; neural circuit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropod Antennae / physiology
  • Calcium Signaling
  • Copulation
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Female
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology*


  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid