Neuronal Function and Dopamine Signaling Evolve at High Temperature in Drosophila

Mol Biol Evol. 2020 Sep 1;37(9):2630-2640. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msaa116.


Neuronal activity is temperature sensitive and affects behavioral traits important for individual fitness, such as locomotion and courtship. Yet, we do not know enough about the evolutionary response of neuronal phenotypes in new temperature environments. Here, we use long-term experimental evolution of Drosophila simulans populations exposed to novel temperature regimes. Here, we demonstrate a direct relationship between thermal selective pressure and the evolution of neuronally expressed molecular and behavioral phenotypes. Several essential neuronal genes evolve lower expression at high temperatures and higher expression at low temperatures, with dopaminergic neurons standing out by displaying the most consistent expression change across independent replicates. We functionally validate the link between evolved gene expression and behavioral changes by pharmacological intervention in the experimentally evolved D. simulans populations as well as by genetically triggered expression changes of key genes in D. melanogaster. As natural temperature clines confirm our results for Drosophila and Anopheles populations, we conclude that neuronal dopamine evolution is a key factor for temperature adaptation.

Keywords: Drosophila; behavior; dopamine; experimental evolution; gene expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Dopamine / genetics
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism*
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Drosophila / metabolism*
  • Locomotion / genetics
  • Male
  • Phenotype


  • Dopamine