Shared Song Detector Neurons in Drosophila Male and Female Brains Drive Sex-Specific Behaviors

David Deutsch, Jan Clemens, Stephan Y. Thiberge, Georgia Guan, Mala Murthy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Males and females often produce distinct responses to the same sensory stimuli. How such differences arise—at the level of sensory processing or in the circuits that generate behavior—remains largely unresolved across sensory modalities. We address this issue in the acoustic communication system of Drosophila. During courtship, males generate time-varying songs, and each sex responds with specific behaviors. We characterize male and female behavioral tuning for all aspects of song and show that feature tuning is similar between sexes, suggesting sex-shared song detectors drive divergent behaviors. We then identify higher-order neurons in the Drosophila brain, called pC2, that are tuned for multiple temporal aspects of one mode of the male's song and drive sex-specific behaviors. We thus uncover neurons that are specifically tuned to an acoustic communication signal and that reside at the sensory-motor interface, flexibly linking auditory perception with sex-specific behavioral responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3200-3215.e5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 7 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


  • Drosophila
  • acoustic communication
  • auditory
  • behavior
  • courtship
  • neural circuits
  • pattern recognition
  • sensorimotor transformation
  • sexually dimorphic
  • social experience
  • song detection


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