Ed Kravitz is an amazing guy who has made numerous major shifts in his research approach. I was a postdoctoral student with him in the 1960's in the Neurobiology Dept. at Harvard Med. Then we were working on the lobster nervous system and its GABA and glutamate neurotransmitters. Now the Kravitz laboratory is studying the genetics of aggressive and sexual behavior in Drosophila fruit flies. From his recent PNAS abstract:
legend: Drosophila courtship dance
The reproductive and defensive behaviors that are initiated in response to specific sensory cues can provide insight into how choices are made between different social behaviors. We manipulated both the activity and sex of a subset of neurons and found significant changes in male social behavior. Results from aggression assays indicate that the neuromodulator octopamine (OCT) is necessary for Drosophila males to coordinate sensory cue information presented by a second male and respond with the appropriate behavior: aggression rather than courtship. In competitive male courtship assays, males with no OCT or with low OCT levels do not adapt to changing sensory cues and court both males and females. We identified a small subset of neurons in the suboesophageal ganglion region of the adult male brain that coexpress OCT and male forms of the neural sex determination factor, Fruitless (FruM).
A single FruM-positive OCT neuron sends extensive bilateral arborizations to the suboesophageal ganglion [Su oes g in the image, click on image to enlarge], the lateral accessory lobe, and possibly the posterior antennal lobe, suggesting a mechanism for integrating multiple sensory modalities. Furthermore, eliminating the expression of FruM by transformer expression in OCT/tyramine neurons changes the aggression versus courtship response behavior. These results provide insight into how complex social behaviors are coordinated in the nervous system and suggest a role for neuromodulators in the functioning of male-specific circuitry relating to behavioral choice.