Classical conditioning and retention in normal and mutant Drosophila melanogaster

J Comp Physiol A. 1985 Sep;157(2):263-77. doi: 10.1007/BF01350033.


By changing the conditioned discrimination paradigm of Quinn et al. (1974) from an instrumental procedure to a classical (Pavlovian) one, we have demonstrated strong learning in wildtype flies. About 150 flies were sequestered in a closed chamber and trained by exposing them sequentially to two odors in air currents. Flies received twelve electric shock pulses in the presence of the first odor (CS+) but not in the presence of the second odor (CS-). To test for conditioned avoidance responses, flies were transported to a T-maze choice point, between converging currents of the two odors. Typically, 95% of trained flies avoided the shock-associated odor (CS+). Acquisition of learning was a function of the number of shock pulses received during CS+ presentation and was asymptotic within one training cycle. Conditioned avoidance increased with increasing shock intensity or odor concentration and was very resistant to extinction. Learning was best when CS+ presentations overlap shock (delay conditioning) and then decreased with increasing CS-US interstimulus intervals. Shocking flies immediately before CS+ presentation (backward conditioning) produced no learning. Nonassociative control procedures (CS Alone, US Alone and Explicitly Unpaired) produced slight decreases in avoidance responses, but these affected both odors equally and did not alter our associative learning index (A). Memory in wild-type flies decayed gradually over the first seven hours after training and still was present 24 h later. The mutants amnesiac, rutabaga and dunce showed appreciable learning acquisition, but their memories decayed very rapidly during the first 30 min. After this, the rates of decay slowed sharply; conditioned avoidance still was measureable at least three hours after training.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Conditioning, Classical*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Electroshock
  • Extinction, Psychological
  • Homozygote
  • Memory*
  • Mutation*
  • Species Specificity