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Octopamine Neurons Mediate Flight-Induced Modulation of Visual Processing in Drosophila melanogaster


Suver, Marie Patricia (2014) Octopamine Neurons Mediate Flight-Induced Modulation of Visual Processing in Drosophila melanogaster. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/DJKK-TC21.


Activity-dependent modulation of sensory systems has been documented in many organisms, and is likely to be essential for appropriate processing of information during different behavioral states. However, the mechanisms underlying these phenomena, and often their functional consequences, remain poorly characterized. I investigated the role of octopamine neurons in the flight-dependent modulation observed in visual interneurons in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. The vertical system (VS) cells exhibit a boost in their response to visual motion during flight compared to quiescence. Pharmacological application of octopamine evokes responses in quiescent flies that mimic those observed during flight, and octopamine neurons that project to the optic lobes increase in activity during flight. Using genetic tools to manipulate the activity of octopamine neurons, I find that they are both necessary and sufficient for the flight-induced visual boost. This work provides the first evidence that endogenous release of octopamine is involved in state-dependent modulation of visual interneurons in flies. Further, I investigated the role of a single pair of octopamine neurons that project to the optic lobes, and found no evidence that chemical synaptic transmission via these neurons is necessary for the flight boost. However, I found some evidence that activation of these neurons may contribute to the flight boost. Wind stimuli alone are sufficient to generate transient increases in the VS cell response to motion vision, but result in no increase in baseline membrane potential. These results suggest that the flight boost originates not from a central command signal during flight, but from mechanosensory stimuli relayed via the octopamine system. Lastly, in an attempt to understand the functional consequences of the flight boost observed in visual interneurons, we measured the effect of inactivating octopamine neurons in freely flying flies. We found that flies whose octopamine neurons we silenced accelerate less than wild-type flies, consistent with the hypothesis that the flight boost we observe in VS cells is indicative of a gain control mechanism mediated by octopamine neurons. Together, this work serves as the basis for a mechanistic and functional understanding of octopaminergic modulation of vision in flying flies.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Drosophila; octopamine; flight; visual processing; state-dependent modulation
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Computation and Neural Systems
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Dickinson, Michael H.
Thesis Committee:
  • Siapas, Athanassios G. (chair)
  • Meister, Markus
  • Perona, Pietro
  • Sternberg, Paul W.
  • Dickinson, Michael H.
Defense Date:13 June 2013
Funding AgencyGrant Number
National Science Foundation0623527
Air Force Office of Scientific Research FA9550-10-1-0368
Paul G. Allen Family FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:08162013-150835965
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7923
Deposited By: Marie Suver
Deposited On:09 Dec 2013 23:15
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 00:02

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