Modality-specific axonal projections in the CNS of the flies Phormia and Drosophila



There is a rich history of behavioral and physiological studies on the leg sensory systems of flies. Here we examine the anatomy of the sensory axons of two species of fly and demonstrate that the location of the axonal projections in the CNS can be correlated with the modality they encode. We studied receptors associated with proprioceptive, tactile, and multimodal hairs. Proprioceptive hairs occur in clusters, called hair plates, and are situated near joints. The neuron innervating each proprioceptive hair has a large axon and coarse arborization in the intermediate neuropil. Tactile receptors have smaller arbors, which are located in a ventral region of the thoracic neuromere. Finally, the multimodal hairs are each innervated by one tactile and four chemosensory neurons. The single tactile neuron has a central arbor that is indistinguishable from those of the tactile hairs; the four chemosensory neurons project to yet a third region of neuropil near the ventral surface of each neuromere. Thus there is a clear modality-specific segregation of axonal arbors in the CNS. This organization is identical in Phormia and Drosophila and thus apparently highly conserved within the Diptera. We presume that, as in other insect sensory systems, this anatomical specificity is linked to synaptic specificity.