A Drosophila Circuit for Habituation Override

J Neurosci. 2022 Apr 6;42(14):2930-2941. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1842-21.2022. Epub 2022 Mar 1.


Habituated animals retain a latent capacity for robust engagement with familiar stimuli. In most instances, the ability to override habituation is best explained by postulating that habituation arises from the potentiation of inhibitory inputs onto stimulus-encoding assemblies and that habituation override occurs through disinhibition. Previous work has shown that inhibitory plasticity contributes to specific forms of olfactory and gustatory habituation in Drosophila Here, we analyze how exposure to a novel stimulus causes override of gustatory (proboscis extension reflex; PER) habituation. While brief sucrose contact with tarsal hairs causes naive Drosophila to extend their proboscis, persistent exposure reduces PER to subsequent sucrose stimuli. We show that in so habituated animals, either brief exposure of the proboscis to yeast or direct thermogenetic activation of sensory neurons restores PER response to tarsal sucrose stimulation. Similar override of PER habituation can also be induced by brief thermogenetic activation of a population of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-positive neurons, a subset of which send projections to the subesophageal zone (SEZ). Significantly, sensory-neuron induced habituation override requires transmitter release from these TH-positive cells. Treatments that cause override specifically influence the habituated state, with no effect on the naive sucrose response across a range of concentrations. Taken together with other findings, these observations in female flies are consistent with a model in which novel taste stimuli trigger activity in dopaminergic neurons which, directly or indirectly, inhibit GABAergic cells that drive PER habituation. The implications of these findings for general mechanisms of attentional and sensory override of habituation are discussed.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Habituation can be overcome when a new context requires an enhanced response to a familiar stimulus. However, the underlying mechanisms remain incompletely understood. Previous studies have provided evidence that habituation of the sucrose-induced proboscis extension reflex (PER) in Drosophila occurs through potentiation of inhibition onto the PER pathway. This work defines controlled protocols for override of PER habituation and uses them to outline the underlying circuit mechanisms. The results presented support a model in which novel taste stimuli cause dishabituation by activating a subset of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-expressing neurons that inhibit GABAergic neurons whose potentiation underlies PER habituation. At a general level, these findings further highlight a central role for inhibition and disinhibition in the control of behavioral flexibility.

Keywords: attention; dishabituation; dopamine; gustatory receptor; novelty; proboscis extension reflex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila* / physiology
  • Female
  • GABAergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic* / physiology
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / metabolism
  • Sucrose / pharmacology
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase


  • Sucrose
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase