Department of Psychology
University of Washington, Seattle
Walking and Singing: The Neurobiology of Multitasking in Drosophila
Locomotion, such as walking or flying, is vitally important for the survival and fitness of practically all animals, and regularly occurs in tandem with other motor actions. Human locomotion, for example, may occur concurrently with talking, and similarly, Drosophila flies can walk and produce complex acoustic signals called “courtship songs”. While many components of the neural circuits that control either walking or singing have been identified, the neural substrates that couple these behaviors during multitasking are entirely unknown. Here, I show how Drosophila courtship behavior can be leveraged as a neuroethological model for studying multitasking. During courtship, male flies must attend to and keep up with their potential mates, all the while producing the right songs at the right times by correctly vibrating their wings. My results show that fly chase-and-stop courtship sequences exhibit hallmarks of multitasking: male flies either walk, or sing, or perform both behaviors simultaneously. Through optogenetic activation of locomotor neurons in freely-courting male flies and new machine-learning methods for automated behavioral analysis, I reveal performance differences in how flies walk or sing (single-tasking) compared to when they walk and sing (multitasking). These results demonstrate that the fly courtship model is an advantageous and promising framework for characterizing and testing the neurogenetic control of multitasking. These experiments provide a strong foundation and entry point for probing circuit mechanisms that underlie multitasking via brain-wide neural recordings in behaving animals. Identifying these mechanisms will inform our understanding of how neural pathways interact to control, or limit, behavioral simultaneity.
A pizza lunch will be served.