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Identifying neural substrates of competitive interactions and sequence transitions

Plos Genetics Jean-Baptiste Masson, Francois Laurent, Albert Cardona, Chloe Barre, Nicolas Skatchkovsky, Marta Zlatic, Tihana Jovanic

Nervous systems have the ability to select appropriate actions and action sequences in response to sensory cues. The circuit mechanisms by which nervous systems achieve choice, stability and transitions between behaviors are still incompletely understood. To identify neurons and brain areas involved in controlling these processes, we combined a large-scale neuronal inactivation screen with automated action detection in response to a mechanosensory cue in Drosophila larva. We analyzed behaviors from 2.9x105 larvae and identified 66 candidate lines for mechanosensory responses out of which 25 for competitive interactions between actions. We further characterize in detail the neurons in these lines and analyzed their connectivity using electron microscopy. We found the neurons in the mechanosensory network are located in different regions of the nervous system consistent with a distributed model of sensorimotor decision-making. These findings provide the basis for understanding how selection and transition between behaviors are controlled by the nervous system.

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