Locomotor Circuits in Drosophila


The Dickson laboratory investigates the neural circuits that control walking in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. The goal is to understand how local circuits in the nerve cord produce rhythmic motor patterns, how these patterns are co-ordinated across each leg joint and all six legs, and how descending signals from the brain modulate these operations to alter the fly's direction, speed and gait.

The lab started operation at QBI in August 2015. The immediate task was to set up the equipment needed to measure and manipulate neuronal activity in the live nerve cord. Genetically encoded activity reporters and modulators, together with fast volumetric imaging, make it possible to simultaneously monitor the activity of large populations of neurons while acutely manipulating the output of one specific cell type. With this approach, it should be possible to systematically explore the operating principles of the locomotor circuits in the fly's central nervous system.

This system was almost fully functional by year's end, so that the group can now focus on three complementary goals: (1) further expanding the collection of genetic tools that can be used to target activity modulators and reporters to specific cell types, (2) investigating how activity patterns in the nerve cord respond to a descending signal that triggers backward walking, and (3) searching for a complementary descending pathway that initiates forward walking.


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Group Publications

Research Areas

  • Drosophila (fruit fly)
  • Neural circuits involving walking

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Group Leader


Research Members

Dulac, Catherine and Dickson, Barry J. (2016) Editorial overview: neurobiology of sexCurrent Opinion in Neurobiology38 A1-A3. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2016.06.001

Dulac C, Dickson BJ. Editorial overview: Neurobiology of sex. Curr Opin   Neurobiol. 2016 Jun;38:A1-3. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2016.06.001. PubMed PMID:   27341775.

Dickson BJ, Moser EI. Neurobiology of behaviour. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2007   Dec;17(6):672-4. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2008.02.001. PubMed PMID: 18339545.

Bruckner S, Soltészová V, Gröller ME, Hladůvka J, Bühler K, Yu JY, Dickson BJ.   BrainGazer--visual queries for neurobiology research. IEEE Trans Vis Comput   Graph. 2009 Nov-Dec;15(6):1497-504. doi: 10.1109/TVCG.2009.121. PubMed PMID:   19834226.

Sweeney LB, Couto A, Chou YH, Berdnik D, Dickson BJ, Luo L, Komiyama T.   Temporal target restriction of olfactory receptor neurons by   Semaphorin-1a/PlexinA-mediated axon-axon interactions. Neuron. 2007 Jan   18;53(2):185-200. PubMed PMID: 17224402.

Cachero S, Ostrovsky AD, Yu JY, Dickson BJ, Jefferis GS. Sexual dimorphism in    the fly brain. Curr Biol. 2010 Sep 28;20(18):1589-601. doi:   10.1016/j.cub.2010.07.045. PubMed PMID: 20832311; PubMed Central PMCID:   PMC2957842.

Krüttner S, Stepien B, Noordermeer JN, Mommaas MA, Mechtler K, Dickson BJ,   Keleman K. Drosophila CPEB Orb2A mediates memory independent of Its RNA-binding   domain. Neuron. 2012 Oct 18;76(2):383-95. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.08.028.   PubMed PMID: 23083740; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3480640.

Mitchell KJ, Doyle JL, Serafini T, Kennedy TE, Tessier-Lavigne M, Goodman CS,    Dickson BJ. Genetic analysis of Netrin genes in Drosophila: Netrins guide CNS   commissural axons and peripheral motor axons. Neuron. 1996 Aug;17(2):203-15.   PubMed PMID: 8780645.

Lundström A, Gallio M, Englund C, Steneberg P, Hemphälä J, Aspenström P,   Keleman K, Falileeva L, Dickson BJ, Samakovlis C. Vilse, a conserved Rac/Cdc42   GAP mediating Robo repulsion in tracheal cells and axons. Genes Dev. 2004 Sep   1;18(17):2161-71. PubMed PMID: 15342493; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC515293.

Clemens J, Girardin CC, Coen P, Guan XJ, Dickson BJ, Murthy M. Connecting   Neural Codes with Behavior in the Auditory System of Drosophila. Neuron. 2015 Sep   23;87(6):1332-43. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.08.014. PubMed PMID: 26365767;   PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4629847.

Hakeda-Suzuki S, Ng J, Tzu J, Dietzl G, Sun Y, Harms M, Nardine T, Luo L,   Dickson BJ. Rac function and regulation during Drosophila development. Nature.   2002 Mar 28;416(6879):438-42. PubMed PMID: 11919634.

Pappu KS, Morey M, Nern A, Spitzweck B, Dickson BJ, Zipursky SL.   Robo-3--mediated repulsive interactions guide R8 axons during Drosophila visual   system development. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 May 3;108(18):7571-6. doi:   10.1073/pnas.1103419108. PubMed PMID: 21490297; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3088640.activity in freely walking Drosophila.   Nat Methods. 2014 Jul;11(7):756-62. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.2973. PubMed PMID:   24859752.

Dickson BJ. Molecular mechanisms of axon guidance. Science. 2002 Dec   6;298(5600):1959-64. Review. Erratum in: Science. 2003 Jan 24;299(5606):515.   PubMed PMID: 12471249.

Keleman K, Krüttner S, Alenius M, Dickson BJ. Function of the Drosophila CPEB   protein Orb2 in long-term courtship memory. Nat Neurosci. 2007   Dec;10(12):1587-93. PubMed PMID: 17965711.

Dickson BJ. Development. Wiring the brain with insulin. Science. 2003 Apr   18;300(5618):440-1. PubMed PMID: 12702863.

Bidaye SS, Machacek C, Wu Y, Dickson BJ. Neuronal control of Drosophila   walking direction. Science. 2014 Apr 4;344(6179):97-101. doi:   10.1126/science.1249964. PubMed PMID: 24700860.

Wittwer F, van der Straten A, Keleman K, Dickson BJ, Hafen E. Lilliputian: an   AF4/FMR2-related protein that controls cell identity and cell growth.   Development. 2001 Mar;128(5):791-800. PubMed PMID: 11171403.

Lin HH, Chu LA, Fu TF, Dickson BJ, Chiang AS. Parallel neural pathways   mediate CO2 avoidance responses in Drosophila. Science. 2013 Jun   14;340(6138):1338-41. doi: 10.1126/science.1236693. PubMed PMID: 23766327.

Bellotto M, Bopp D, Senti KA, Burke R, Deak P, Maroy P, Dickson B, Basler K,    Hafen E. Maternal-effect loci involved in Drosophila oogenesis and embryogenesis:   P element-induced mutations on the third chromosome. Int J Dev Biol. 2002   Jan;46(1):149-57. PubMed PMID: 11902676.

Lai JS, Lo SJ, Dickson BJ, Chiang AS. Auditory circuit in the Drosophila   brain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Feb 14;109(7):2607-12. doi:   10.1073/pnas.1117307109. PubMed PMID: 22308412; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3289363.     

  • Professor Ansgar Büschges, University of Cologne, Germany
  • Professor Richard Mann, Columbia University, New York
  • Professor Silvia Daun-Gruhn, University of Cologne, Cermany
  • Dr Gwyneth Card, Janelia Research Campus, HHMI, U.S.A.
  • Dr Julie Simpson, Janelia Research Campus, HHMI, U.S.A.