Drosophila social clustering is disrupted by anesthetics and in narrow abdomen ion channel mutants


Corresponding author: E. D. Burg, National Institutes of Health, Bldg. 35, Room 1B-1008, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA. E-mail: burged@mail.nih.gov


Members of many species tend to congregate, a behavioral strategy known as local enhancement. Selective advantages of local enhancement range from efficient use of resources to defense from predators. While previous studies have examined many types of social behavior in fruit flies, few have specifically investigated local enhancement. Resource-independent local enhancement (RILE) has recently been described in the fruit fly using a measure called social space index (SSI), although the neural mechanisms remain unknown. Here, we analyze RILE of Drosophila under conditions that allow us to elucidate its neural mechanisms. We have investigated the effects of general volatile anesthetics, compounds that compromise higher order functioning of the type typically required for responding to social cues. We exposed Canton-S flies to non-immobilizing concentrations of halothane and found that flies had a significantly decreased SSI compared with flies tested in air. Narrow abdomen (na) mutants, which display altered responses to anesthetics in numerous behavioral assays, also have a significantly reduced SSI, an effect that was fully reversed by restoring expression of na by driving a UAS-NA rescue construct with NA-GAL4. We found that na expression in cholinergic neurons fully rescued the behavioral defect, whereas expression of na in glutamatergic neurons did so only partially. Our results also suggest a role for na expression in the mushroom bodies (MBs), as suppressing na expression in the MBs of NA-GAL4 rescue flies diminishes SSI. Our data indicate that RILE, a simple behavioral strategy, requires complex neural processing.