Neural network organization for courtship-song feature detection in Drosophila

Christa A. Baker, Claire McKellar, Rich Pang, Aljoscha Nern, Sven Dorkenwald, Diego A. Pacheco, Nils Eckstein, Jan Funke, Barry J. Dickson, Mala Murthy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Animals communicate using sounds in a wide range of contexts, and auditory systems must encode behaviorally relevant acoustic features to drive appropriate reactions. How feature detection emerges along auditory pathways has been difficult to solve due to challenges in mapping the underlying circuits and characterizing responses to behaviorally relevant features. Here, we study auditory activity in the Drosophila melanogaster brain and investigate feature selectivity for the two main modes of fly courtship song, sinusoids and pulse trains. We identify 24 new cell types of the intermediate layers of the auditory pathway, and using a new connectomic resource, FlyWire, we map all synaptic connections between these cell types, in addition to connections to known early and higher-order auditory neurons—this represents the first circuit-level map of the auditory pathway. We additionally determine the sign (excitatory or inhibitory) of most synapses in this auditory connectome. We find that auditory neurons display a continuum of preferences for courtship song modes and that neurons with different song-mode preferences and response timescales are highly interconnected in a network that lacks hierarchical structure. Nonetheless, we find that the response properties of individual cell types within the connectome are predictable from their inputs. Our study thus provides new insights into the organization of auditory coding within the Drosophila brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3317-3333.e7
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 8 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • acoustic communication
  • auditory
  • calcium imaging
  • connectomics
  • neural network
  • sensory responses


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