Wired for sex: the neurobiology of Drosophila courtship behaviour

Anna von Philipsborn, Krystyna Keleman, Jai Yu, Tianxiao Liu, Barry J. Dickson
Research Institute of Molecular Pathology, Vienna, Austria

How are innate behavioural repertoires pre-programmed into the nervous system? And how does trial-and-error learning allow each individual to fine tune this innate template to adapt to the conditions of the local environment? The courtship behaviour of Drosophila melanogaster males is an ideal model system to address these questions at the level of single cells and genetically-defined neural circuits.

I will present our current understanding of the anatomy and function of neural circuity that generates male courtship behaviour. This analysis has revealed how sexual dimorphisms sculpted into these circuits by the fruitless gene shape the distinct behaviours of males and females. We have also uncovered elements of this circuit that mediate dopamine-dependent learning in the adult fly, so that his courtship activity is preferentially directed at receptive virgin females. These studies are beginning to reveal the cellular and circuit mechanisms underlying innate and learned behaviours in this model system.

Keywords: behaviour, neural circuit, Drosophila, courtship, dopamine, learning