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2.  Mechanisms of Odor-Tracking: Multiple Sensors for Enhanced Perception and Behavior 
Early in evolution, the ability to sense and respond to changing environments must have provided a critical survival advantage to living organisms. From bacteria and worms to flies and vertebrates, sophisticated mechanisms have evolved to enhance odor detection and localization. Here, we review several modes of chemotaxis. We further consider the relevance of a striking and recurrent motif in the organization of invertebrate and vertebrate sensory systems, namely the existence of two symmetrical olfactory sensors. By combining our current knowledge about the olfactory circuits of larval and adult Drosophila, we examine the molecular and neural mechanisms underlying robust olfactory perception and extend these analyses to recent behavioral studies addressing the relevance and function of bilateral olfactory input for gradient detection. Finally, using a comparative theoretical approach based on Braitenberg's vehicles, we speculate about the relationships between anatomy, circuit architecture and stereotypical orientation behaviors.
PMCID: PMC2854573  PMID: 20407585
drosophila melanogaster; olfaction; bilateral; chemotaxis; orientation behavior; sensory perception
3.  Multisensory integration for odor tracking by flying Drosophila 
Many see fruit flies as an annoyance, invading our homes with a nagging persistence and efficiency. Yet from a scientific perspective, these tiny animals are a wonder of multisensory integration, capable of tracking fragmented odor plumes amidst turbulent winds and constantly varying visual conditions. The peripheral olfactory, mechanosensory, and visual systems of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, have been studied in great detail;1–4 however, the mechanisms by which fly brains integrate information from multiple sensory modalities to facilitate robust odor tracking remain elusive. Our studies on olfactory orientation by flying flies reveal that these animals do not simply follow their “nose“; rather, fruit flies require mechanosensory and visual input to track odors in flight.5,6 Collectively, these results shed light on the neural circuits involved in odor localization by fruit flies in the wild and illuminate the elegant complexity underlying a behavior to which the annoyed and amazed are familiar.
PMCID: PMC2881244  PMID: 20539786
vision; olfaction; mechanosensory; antennae; visual processing; motor control; insect behavior; behavioral neuroscience; neuroethology; sensory ecology
4.  Binocular Interactions Underlying the Classic Optomotor Responses of Flying Flies 
In response to imposed course deviations, the optomotor reactions of animals reduce motion blur and facilitate the maintenance of stable body posture. In flies, many anatomical and electrophysiological studies suggest that disparate motion cues stimulating the left and right eyes are not processed in isolation but rather are integrated in the brain to produce a cohesive panoramic percept. To investigate the strength of such inter-ocular interactions and their role in compensatory sensory–motor transformations, we utilize a virtual reality flight simulator to record wing and head optomotor reactions by tethered flying flies in response to imposed binocular rotation and monocular front-to-back and back-to-front motion. Within a narrow range of stimulus parameters that generates large contrast insensitive optomotor responses to binocular rotation, we find that responses to monocular front-to-back motion are larger than those to panoramic rotation, but are contrast sensitive. Conversely, responses to monocular back-to-front motion are slower than those to rotation and peak at the lowest tested contrast. Together our results suggest that optomotor responses to binocular rotation result from the influence of non-additive contralateral inhibitory as well as excitatory circuit interactions that serve to confer contrast insensitivity to flight behaviors influenced by rotatory optic flow.
PMCID: PMC3284692  PMID: 22375108
vision; contralateral; self-motion; sensory–motor; head movement; insect flight
5.  Odor identity influences tracking of temporally patterned plumes in Drosophila 
BMC Neuroscience  2011;12:62.
Turbulent fluid landscapes impose temporal patterning upon chemical signals, and the dynamical neuronal responses to patterned input vary across the olfactory receptor repertoire in flies, moths, and locusts. Sensory transformations exhibit low pass filtering that ultimately results in perceptual fusion of temporally transient sensory signals. For example, humans perceive a sufficiently fast flickering light as continuous, but the frequency threshold at which this fusion occurs varies with wavelength. Although the summed frequency sensitivity of the fly antenna has been examined to a considerable extent, it is unknown how intermittent odor signals are integrated to influence plume tracking behavior independent of wind cues, and whether temporal fusion for behavioral tracking might vary according to the odor encountered.
Here we have adopted a virtual reality flight simulator to study the dynamics of plume tracking under different experimental conditions. Flies tethered in a magnetic field actively track continuous (non-intermittent) plumes of vinegar, banana, or ethyl butyrate with equal precision. However, pulsing these plumes at varying frequency reveals that the threshold rate, above which flies track the plume as if it were continuous, is unique for each odorant tested. Thus, the capability of a fly to navigate an intermittent plume depends on the particular odorant being tracked during flight. Finally, we measured antennal field potential responses to an intermittent plume, found that receptor dynamics track the temporal pattern of the odor stimulus and therefore do not limit the observed behavioral temporal fusion limits.
This study explores the flies' ability to track odor plumes that are temporally intermittent. We were surprised to find that the perceptual critical fusion limit, determined behaviorally, is strongly dependent on odor identity. Antennal field potential recordings indicate that peripheral processing of temporal cues faithfully follow rapid odor transients above the rates that can be resolved behaviorally. These results indicate that (1) higher order circuits create a perceptually continuous signal from an intermittent sensory one, and that (2) this transformation varies with odorant rather than being constrained by sensory-motor integration, thus (3) offering an entry point for examining the mechanisms of rapid olfactory decision making in an ecological context.
PMCID: PMC3145592  PMID: 21708035
6.  Visually Mediated Odor Tracking During Flight in Drosophila 
Flying insects use visual cues to stabilize their heading in a wind stream. Many animals additionally track odors carried in the wind. As such, visual stabilization of upwind tracking directly aids in odor tracking. But do olfactory signals directly influence visual tracking behavior independently from wind cues? Additionally, recent advances in olfactory molecular genetics and neurophysiology have motivated novel quantitative behavioral analyses to assess the behavioral influence of (e.g.) genetically inactivating specific olfactory activation circuits. We modified a magnetic tether system originally devised for vision experiments by equipping the arena with narrow laminar flow odor plumes. Here we focus on experiments that can be performed after a fly is tethered and is able to navigate in the magnetic arena. We show how to acquire video images optimized for measuring body angle, how to judge stable odor tracking, and we illustrate two experiments to examine the influence of visual cues on odor tracking.
PMCID: PMC2781825  PMID: 19229181
7.  A Magnetic Tether System to Investigate Visual and Olfactory Mediated Flight Control in Drosophila 
It has been clear for many years that insects use visual cues to stabilize their heading in a wind stream. Many animals track odors carried in the wind. As such, visual stabilization of upwind tracking directly aids in odor tracking. But do olfactory signals directly influence visual tracking behavior independently from wind cues? Also, the recent deluge of research on the neurophysiology and neurobehavioral genetics of olfaction in Drosophila has motivated ever more technically sophisticated and quantitative behavioral assays. Here, we modified a magnetic tether system originally devised for vision experiments by equipping the arena with narrow laminar flow odor plumes. A fly is glued to a small steel pin and suspended in a magnetic field that enables it to yaw freely. Small diameter food odor plumes are directed downward over the fly s head, eliciting stable tracking by a hungry fly. Here we focus on the critical mechanics of tethering, aligning the magnets, devising the odor plume, and confirming stable odor tracking.
PMCID: PMC2953965  PMID: 19066526
8.  Flies require bilateral sensory input to track odor gradients in flight 
Current biology : CB  2009;19(15):1301-1307.
Fruit flies make their living on the fly in search of attractive food odors. To maintain forward flight, flies balance the strength of self-induced bilateral visual motion [1] and bilateral wind cues [2], but it is unknown whether they use bilateral olfactory cues to track odors in flight. Tracking an odor gradient requires comparisons across two spatially separated chemosensory organs and has been observed in several walking insects [3–5], including Drosophila [6]. The olfactory antennae are separated by a fraction of a millimeter, and most sensory neurons project bilaterally and symmetrically activate the first-order olfactory relay [7, 8], both of which would seem to constrain the capacity for bilateral sensory comparisons. Are fruit flies nonetheless able to track an odor gradient during flight? Using a modified flight simulator that enables maneuvers in the yaw axis [9], we found that flies readily steer directly toward a laterally positioned odor plume. This capability is abolished by occluding sensory input to one antenna. Mechanosensory input from the Johnston’s organ and olfactory input from the third antennal segment cooperate to direct small angle yaw turns up the plume gradient. We additionally show that sensory signals from the left antenna contribute disproportionately more to odor tracking than the right, providing further evidence of sensory lateralization in invertebrates [10–13].
PMCID: PMC2726901  PMID: 19576769

Results 1-8 (8)