Variability of synapse numbers and partners despite identical genes reveals the limits of genetic determinism. Here, we use developmental temperature as a non-genetic perturbation to study variability of brain wiring and behavior in Drosophila. Unexpectedly, slower development at lower temperatures increases axo-dendritic branching, synapse numbers, and non-canonical synaptic partnerships of various neurons, while maintaining robust ratios of canonical synapses. Using R7 photoreceptors as a model, we show that changing the relative availability of synaptic partners using a DIPγ mutant that ablates R7's preferred partner leads to temperature-dependent recruitment of non-canonical partners to reach normal synapse numbers. Hence, R7 synaptic specificity is not absolute but based on the relative availability of postsynaptic partners and presynaptic control of synapse numbers. Behaviorally, movement precision is temperature robust, while movement activity is optimized for the developmentally encountered temperature. These findings suggest genetically encoded relative and scalable synapse formation to develop functional, but not identical, brains and behaviors.
Keywords: Drosophila; behavior; brain development; brain wiring; branching; filopodia; neuronal connectivity; synaptic specificity; temperature; variability.
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