Yoshinori Aso 1 , * , Daisuke Hattori 2 , Yang Yu 1 , Rebecca M Johnston 1 , Nirmala A Iyer 1 , Teri-TB Ngo 1 , Heather Dionne 1 , LF Abbott 3 , 4 , Richard Axel 2 , 3 , 7 , Hiromu Tanimoto 5 , 6 , Gerald M Rubin 1 , *
We identified the neurons comprising the Drosophila mushroom body (MB), an associative center in invertebrate brains, and provide a comprehensive map describing their potential connections. Each of the 21 MB output neuron (MBON) types elaborates segregated dendritic arbors along the parallel axons of ∼2000 Kenyon cells, forming 15 compartments that collectively tile the MB lobes. MBON axons project to five discrete neuropils outside of the MB and three MBON types form a feedforward network in the lobes. Each of the 20 dopaminergic neuron (DAN) types projects axons to one, or at most two, of the MBON compartments. Convergence of DAN axons on compartmentalized Kenyon cell–MBON synapses creates a highly ordered unit that can support learning to impose valence on sensory representations. The elucidation of the complement of neurons of the MB provides a comprehensive anatomical substrate from which one can infer a functional logic of associative olfactory learning and memory.
One of the key goals of neuroscience is to understand how specific circuits of brain cells enable animals to respond optimally to the constantly changing world around them. Such processes are more easily studied in simpler brains, and the fruit fly—with its small size, short life cycle, and well-developed genetic toolkit—is widely used to study the genes and circuits that underlie learning and behavior.
Fruit flies can learn to approach odors that have previously been paired with food, and also to avoid any odors that have been paired with an electric shock, and a part of the brain called the mushroom body has a central role in this process. When odorant molecules bind to receptors on the fly's antennae, they activate neurons in the antennal lobe of the brain, which in turn activate cells called Kenyon cells within the mushroom body. The Kenyon cells then activate output neurons that convey signals to other parts of the brain.
It is known that relatively few Kenyon cells are activated by any given odor. Moreover, it seems that a given odor activates different sets of Kenyon cells in different flies. Because the association between an odor and the Kenyon cells it activates is unique to each fly, each fly needs to learn through its own experiences what a particular pattern of Kenyon cell activation means.
Aso et al. have now applied sophisticated molecular genetic and anatomical techniques to thousands of different transgenic flies to identify the neurons of the mushroom body. The resulting map reveals that the mushroom body contains roughly 2200 neurons, including seven types of Kenyon cells and 21 types of output cells, as well as 20 types of neurons that use the neurotransmitter dopamine. Moreover, this map provides insights into the circuits that support odor-based learning. It reveals, for example, that the mushroom body can be divided into 15 anatomical compartments that are each defined by the presence of a specific set of output and dopaminergic neuron cell types. Since the dopaminergic neurons help to shape a fly's response to odors on the basis of previous experience, this organization suggests that these compartments may be semi-autonomous information processing units.
In contrast to the rest of the insect brain, the mushroom body has a flexible organization that is similar to that of the mammalian brain. Elucidating the circuits that support associative learning in fruit flies should therefore make it easier to identify the equivalent mechanisms in vertebrate animals.