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Neural Control of Male and Female Aggression in Drosophila


Chiu, Hui (2021) Neural Control of Male and Female Aggression in Drosophila. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/9rf6-5727.


Aggression is essential for an individual’s survival, but it can also lead to unfavorable consequences when misregulated. It is thus important to study the neural basis of this behavior not only for learning how the nervous system is constructed to generate an innate behavior but also for finding the causality of misregulation. Although many circuit and molecular mechanisms underlying aggression have been revealed, our knowledge is mostly restricted to males. Given that sexual differences in aggression are seen in most if not all species, the mechanisms that we learned in one sex may not be directly applied to the other. Therefore, studying the neural basis of aggression in both sexes is necessary for gaining a full understanding of this behavior. Drosophila serves as a unique model for such studies because males and females differ not only in the level of aggressiveness but also in the motor patterns. Interestingly, the aggression-promoting neurons that have been identified so far are mostly sex-specific, raising the possibility that males and females adopt distinct circuits for controlling aggression. However, many sexually shared features of aggression also imply the existence of common circuit elements. My thesis work investigated whether any aggression circuit modules are shared by the two sexes and how the circuit is organized to generate sexually shared and dimorphic motor patterns. Through a behavioral screen and the genetic intersection approach, we identified a pair of sexually shared neurons, CAP, that regulates aggressive approach in both sexes, as well as a pair of male-specific neurons, MAP, whose activation promotes the transition from approach to male-specific attack. We subsequently identified the female homologue, fpC1 neurons, whose activation induces female aggression. Supported by the in vivo imaging and the behavioral epistasis results, we confirmed the functional connectivity between CAP and MAP/fpC1 in males and females, respectively. Lastly, we showed that the connectivity between CAP and MAP/fpC1 is strengthened in socially isolated flies, which exemplifies how circuits can be modified by social isolation to enhance aggression in both sexes. The connectivity between CAP and MAP/fpC1 provides a circuit logic for the control of sexually shared and dimorphic aggressive behaviors. It can be used as an entry point for circuit mapping as well as for further investigation of mechanisms underlying sexual differences in aggression.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Aggression, Sexual dimorphism, Drosophila
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Biology and Biological Engineering
Major Option:Biology
Awards:Milton and Francis Clauser Doctoral Prize, 2021. Lawrence L. and Audrey W. Ferguson Prize, 2021.
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Anderson, David J.
Thesis Committee:
  • Sternberg, Paul W. (chair)
  • Hong, Elizabeth J.
  • Gradinaru, Viviana
  • Meister, Markus
  • Anderson, David J.
Defense Date:27 April 2021
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05222021-190729800
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Chapter 2.
Chiu, Hui0000-0002-1820-8411
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14170
Deposited By: Hui Chiu
Deposited On:26 May 2021 23:41
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 00:22

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