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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Role of serotonergic neurons in the Drosophila larval response to light

Verónica G Rodriguez Moncalvo and Ana Regina Campos*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, McMaster University, 1280 Main St. West, Hamilton, ON, L8S 4K1, Canada

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BMC Neuroscience 2009, 10:66  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-66

Published: 23 June 2009



Drosophila larval locomotion consists of forward peristalsis interrupted by episodes of pausing, turning and exploratory behavior (head swinging). This behavior can be regulated by visual input as seen by light-induced increase in pausing, head swinging and direction change as well as reduction of linear speed that characterizes the larval photophobic response. During 3rd instar stage, Drosophila larvae gradually cease to be repelled by light and are photoneutral by the time they wander in search for a place to undergo metamorphosis. Thus, Drosophila larval photobehavior can be used to study control of locomotion.


We used targeted neuronal silencing to assess the role of candidate neurons in the regulation of larval photobehavior. Inactivation of DOPA decarboxylase (Ddc) neurons increases the response to light throughout larval development, including during the later stages of the 3rd instar characterized by photoneutral response. Increased response to light is characterized by increase in light-induced direction change and associated pause, and reduction of linear movement. Amongst Ddc neurons, suppression of the activity of corazonergic and serotonergic but not dopaminergic neurons increases the photophobic response observed during 3rd instar stage. Silencing of serotonergic neurons does not disrupt larval locomotion or the response to mechanical stimuli. Reduced serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) signaling within serotonergic neurons recapitulates the results obtained with targeted neuronal silencing. Ablation of serotonergic cells in the ventral nerve cord (VNC) does not affect the larval response to light. Similarly, disruption of serotonergic projections that contact the photoreceptor termini in the brain hemispheres does not impact the larval response to light. Finally, pan-neural over-expression of 5-HT1ADro receptors, but not of any other 5-HT receptor subtype, causes a significant decrease in the response to light of 3rd instar larvae.


Our data demonstrate that activity of serotonergic and corazonergic neurons contribute to the control of larval locomotion by light. We conclude that this control is carried out by 5-HT neurons located in the brain hemispheres, but does not appear to occur at the photoreceptor level and may be mediated by 5-HT1ADro receptors. These findings provide new insights into the function of 5-HT neurons in Drosophila larval behavior as well as into the mechanisms underlying regulation of larval response to light.