Speed dependent descending control of innate freezing behavior in Drosophila melanogaster

Ricardo Zacarias, Shigehiro Namiki, Gwyneth Card, Maria Luisa Vasconcelos, and Marta A. Moita

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Received: 28th December 17

The most fundamental choice an animal has to make when it detects a predator, or other threats, is whether to freeze, reducing its chances of being noticed, or to flee to safety. Here we show that Drosophila melanogaster exposed to looming stimuli in a confined arena either froze or fled. The probability of freezing versus fleeing was modulated by the fly’s walking speed at the time of threat, demonstrating that freeze/flee decisions were context dependent. We describe a pair of descending neurons crucially implicated in freezing. Genetic silencing of DNp09 descending neurons disrupted freezing yet did not prevent fleeing. Optogenetic activation of both DNp09 neurons induced running and freezing in a state-dependent manner. Our findings establish walking speed as a key factor in defensive response choices and reveal a pair of descending neurons as a critical component in the circuitry mediating selection and execution of freezing or fleeing behaviors.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

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