Letter | Published:

Layered reward signalling through octopamine and dopamine in Drosophila

Nature volume 492, pages 433437 (20 December 2012) | Download Citation


Dopamine is synonymous with reward and motivation in mammals1,2. However, only recently has dopamine been linked to motivated behaviour and rewarding reinforcement in fruitflies3,4. Instead, octopamine has historically been considered to be the signal for reward in insects5,6,7. Here we show, using temporal control of neural function in Drosophila, that only short-term appetitive memory is reinforced by octopamine. Moreover, octopamine-dependent memory formation requires signalling through dopamine neurons. Part of the octopamine signal requires the α-adrenergic-like OAMB receptor in an identified subset of mushroom-body-targeted dopamine neurons. Octopamine triggers an increase in intracellular calcium in these dopamine neurons, and their direct activation can substitute for sugar to form appetitive memory, even in flies lacking octopamine. Analysis of the β-adrenergic-like OCTβ2R receptor reveals that octopamine-dependent reinforcement also requires an interaction with dopamine neurons that control appetitive motivation. These data indicate that sweet taste engages a distributed octopamine signal that reinforces memory through discrete subsets of mushroom-body-targeted dopamine neurons. In addition, they reconcile previous findings with octopamine and dopamine and suggest that reinforcement systems in flies are more similar to mammals than previously thought.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    & Reward, motivation, and reinforcement learning. Neuron 36, 285–298 (2002)

  2. 2.

    Dopamine, learning and motivation. Nature Rev. Neurosci. 5, 483–494 (2004)

  3. 3.

    et al. A neural circuit mechanism integrating motivational state with memory expression in Drosophila. Cell 139, 416–427 (2009)

  4. 4.

    et al. A subset of dopamine neurons signals reward for odour memory in Drosophila. Nature 488, 512–516 (2012)

  5. 5.

    An identified neuron mediates the unconditioned stimulus in associative olfactory learning in honeybees. Nature 366, 59–63 (1993)

  6. 6.

    & Multiple sites of associative odour learning as revealed by local brain microinjections of octopamine in honeybees. Learn. Mem. 5, 146–156 (1998)

  7. 7.

    et al. Dopamine and octopamine differentiate between aversive and appetitive olfactory memories in Drosophila. J. Neurosci. 23, 10495–10502 (2003)

  8. 8.

    et al. Two functional but noncomplementing Drosophila tyrosine decarboxylase genes: distinct roles for neural tyramine and octopamine in female fertility. J. Biol. Chem. 280, 14948–14955 (2005)

  9. 9.

    , & Characterization of Drosophila tyramine beta-hydroxylase gene and isolation of mutant flies lacking octopamine. J. Neurosci. 16, 3900–3911 (1996)

  10. 10.

    Conditional modification of behavior in Drosophila by targeted expression of a temperature-sensitive shibire allele in defined neurons. J. Neurobiol. 47, 81–92 (2001)

  11. 11.

    & Remembering nutrient quality of sugar in Drosophila. Curr. Biol. 21, 746–750 (2011)

  12. 12.

    & Drosophila evaluates and learns the nutritional value of sugars. Curr. Biol. 21, 751–755 (2011)

  13. 13.

    et al. An internal thermal sensor controlling temperature preference in Drosophila. Nature 454, 217–220 (2008)

  14. 14.

    , , & A map of octopaminergic neurons in the Drosophila brain. J. Comp. Neurol. 513, 643–667 (2009)

  15. 15.

    Mushroom body memoir: from maps to models. Nature Rev. Neurosci. 4, 266–275 (2003)

  16. 16.

    , & D1 dopamine receptor dDA1 is required in the mushroom body neurons for aversive and appetitive learning in Drosophila. J. Neurosci. 27, 7640–7647 (2007)

  17. 17.

    et al. A versatile in vivo system for directed dissection of gene expression patterns. Nature Methods 8, 231–237 (2011)

  18. 18.

    et al. Writing memories with light-addressable reinforcement circuitry. Cell 139, 405–415 (2009)

  19. 19.

    et al. Specific dopaminergic neurons for the formation of labile aversive memory. Curr. Biol. 20, 1445–1451 (2010)

  20. 20.

    & Eight different types of dopaminergic neurons innervate the Drosophila mushroom body neuropil: anatomical and physiological heterogeneity. Front. Neural Circuits 3, 5 (2009)

  21. 21.

    , & A novel octopamine receptor with preferential expression in Drosophila mushroom bodies. J. Neurosci. 18, 3650–3658 (1998)

  22. 22.

    , , & A family of octopamine receptors that specifically induce cyclic AMP production or Ca2+ release in Drosophila melanogaster. J. Neurochem. 93, 440–451 (2005)

  23. 23.

    et al. Imaging neural activity in worms, flies and mice with improved GCaMP calcium indicators. Nature Methods 6, 875–881 (2009)

  24. 24.

    , & Identification and characterization of a novel family of Drosophila beta-adrenergic-like octopamine G-protein coupled receptors. J. Neurochem. 94, 547–560 (2005)

  25. 25.

    & Octopamine regulates sleep in Drosophila through protein kinase A-dependent mechanisms. J. Neurosci. 28, 9377–9385 (2008)

  26. 26.

    Dopamine reveals neural circuit mechanisms of fly memory. Trends Neurosci. 33, 457–464 (2010)

  27. 27.

    et al. GFP reconstitution across synaptic partners (GRASP) defines cell contacts and synapses in living nervous systems. Neuron 57, 353–363 (2008)

  28. 28.

    & Motor control in a Drosophila taste circuit. Neuron 61, 373–384 (2009)

  29. 29.

    et al. A pair of inhibitory neurons are required to sustain labile memory in the Drosophila mushroom body. Curr. Biol. 21, 855–861 (2011)

  30. 30.

    et al. Autoregulatory and paracrine control of synaptic and behavioral plasticity by octopaminergic signaling. Nature Neurosci. 14, 190–199 (2011)

  31. 31.

    , , , & Octopamine receptor OAMB is required for ovulation in Drosophila melanogaster. Dev. Biol. 264, 179–190 (2003)

  32. 32.

    & Genetic mosaic with dual binary transcriptional systems in Drosophila. Nature Neurosci. 9, 703–709 (2006)

  33. 33.

    et al. A genome-wide transgenic RNAi library for conditional gene inactivation in Drosophila. Nature 448, 151–156 (2007)

  34. 34.

    & Mosaic analysis with a repressible cell marker for studies of gene function in neuronal morphogenesis. Neuron 22, 451–461 (1999)

  35. 35.

    et al. Bruchpilot, a protein with homology to ELKS/CAST, is required for structural integrity and function of synaptic active zones in Drosophila. Neuron 49, 833–844 (2006)

  36. 36.

    et al. Genetically encoded dendritic marker sheds light on neuronal connectivity in Drosophila. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 20553–20558 (2010)

  37. 37.

    Simultaneous recording of calcium signals from identified neurons and feeding behavior of Drosophila melanogaster. J. Vis. Exp. 62, e3625 (2012)

Download references


We are grateful to M. Yoshihara, S. DasGupta, V. Budnik and S. Goodwin for reagents. We thank T. Clandinin and E. Kravitz for collegial exchange. D.O. was supported by an EMBO Long-Term Fellowship and a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship. D.G. was supported by a Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowship (F32EY020040). M.S. was supported by a Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellowship. S.W. is funded by a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship in the Basic Biomedical Sciences, by grants MH069883 and MH081982 from the National Institutes of Health and by funds from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and Oxford Martin School.

Author information

Author notes

    • Christopher J. Burke
    •  & Wolf Huetteroth

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

    • Michael J. Krashes

    Present address: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Center for Life Sciences, 3 Blackfan Circle, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.


  1. Department of Neurobiology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 364 Plantation Street, Worcester, Massachusetts 01605, USA

    • Christopher J. Burke
    • , Michael J. Krashes
    •  & Scott Waddell
  2. Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour, The University of Oxford, Tinsley Building, Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3SR, UK

    • Wolf Huetteroth
    • , David Owald
    • , Emmanuel Perisse
    • , Gaurav Das
    •  & Scott Waddell
  3. Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Daryl Gohl
    •  & Marion Silies
  4. Division of Biological Sciences and Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59812, USA

    • Sarah Certel


  1. Search for Christopher J. Burke in:

  2. Search for Wolf Huetteroth in:

  3. Search for David Owald in:

  4. Search for Emmanuel Perisse in:

  5. Search for Michael J. Krashes in:

  6. Search for Gaurav Das in:

  7. Search for Daryl Gohl in:

  8. Search for Marion Silies in:

  9. Search for Sarah Certel in:

  10. Search for Scott Waddell in:


S.W., C.J.B. and W.H. conceived this project and designed all experiments. C.J.B. and W.H. constructed fly strains, C.J.B. performed most behaviour, with some assistance from E.P. Anatomical data were produced by W.H. and C.B. Live imaging was performed by D.O. and W.H. The study was initiated by the experiments of M.J.K. G.D. constructed lexAop-dTrpA1. The 0104-, 0273-, 0665- and 0891-GAL4 flies were generated and initially characterized by D.G. and M.S. S.C. constructed and initially characterized Tdc2-lexA flies. S.W., W.H. and C.B. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Scott Waddell.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Figures

    This file contains Supplementary Figures 1-10.

About this article

Publication history






Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Newsletter Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing