A subset of octopaminergic neurons are important for Drosophila aggression


Aggression is an innate behavior that is important for animal survival and evolution. We examined the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying aggression in Drosophila. Reduction of the neurotransmitter octopamine, the insect equivalent of norepinephrine, decreased aggression in both males and females. Mutants lacking octopamine did not initiate fighting and did not fight other flies, although they still provoked other flies to fight themselves. Mutant males lost to the wild-type males in fighting and in competing for copulation with females. Enhanced octopaminergic signaling increased aggression in socially grouped flies, but not in socially isolated flies. We carried out genetic rescue experiments that revealed the functional importance of neuronal octopamine and identified a small subset of octopaminergic neurons in the suboesophageal ganglion as being important for aggression.

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Figure 1: Effects of the Tβh mutation on male and female aggression.
Figure 2: General behavioral characterization of TβhnM18 mutants.
Figure 3: Effects of CDM and TβH overexpression on aggression.
Figure 4: Effect of activating octopaminergic neurons on aggression.
Figure 5: Rescue of aggression phenotype in TβhnM18 mutants by TβH expression in octopaminergic neurons.
Figure 6: A small subset of octopaminergic neurons involved in aggression.


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We are grateful to M. Zhou and the Antibody Center of the National Institute of Biological Sciences for the antibody to TβH; J. Hirsh, M. Monastirioti, P. Shen, B. White, C.-F. Wu, R. Greenspan, P. Salvaterra, T. Kitamoto and the Bloomington Stock Center for fly stocks; X. Wu for participation in early experiments; Y. Jiang for help with statistics; X. Jia for technical assistance; and the Rao lab members for helpful discussions.

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Correspondence to Yi Rao.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Text and Figures

Supplementary Figures 1–7 and Supplementary Table 1 (PDF 463 kb)

Supplementary Video 1

The chamber contains a wild-type fly painted red and a Tβhnm18 mutant fly painted yellow. The wild type often occupied the central food pad and chased after the Tβhnm18 mutant, preventing the latter from walking onto the food pad. The Tβhnm18 mutant was usually forced off and wandered along the wall of the fighting chamber. When the Tβhnm18 mutant had the chance of entering the territory with food, fighting was initiated and intensive lunging directed by the wild type towards the intruder Tβhnm18 mutant was often followed until the loser was forced off the food pad again. (MPG 2880 kb)

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Zhou, C., Rao, Y. & Rao, Y. A subset of octopaminergic neurons are important for Drosophila aggression. Nat Neurosci 11, 1059–1067 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.2164

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