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Cholinergic synaptic transmission in adult Drosophila Kenyon cells in situ.

  • Author(s): Gu, Huaiyu
  • O'Dowd, Diane K
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Behavioral and genetic studies in Drosophila have contributed to our understanding of molecular mechanisms that underlie the complex processes of learning and memory. Use of this model organism for exploration of the cellular mechanisms of memory formation requires the ability to monitor synaptic activity in the underlying neural networks, a challenging task in the tiny adult fly. Here, we describe an isolated whole-brain preparation in which it is possible to obtain in situ whole-cell recordings from adult Kenyon cells, key members of a neural circuit essential for olfactory associative learning in Drosophila. The presence of sodium action potential (AP)-dependent synaptic potentials and synaptic currents in >50% of the Kenyon cells shows that these neurons are members of a spontaneously active neural circuit in the isolated brain. The majority of sodium AP-dependent synaptic transmission is blocked by curare and by alpha-bungarotoxin (alpha-BTX). This demonstrates that nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are responsible for most of the spontaneous excitatory drive in this circuit in the absence of normal sensory input. Furthermore, analysis of sodium AP-independent synaptic currents provides the first direct demonstration that alpha-BTX-sensitive nAChRs mediate fast excitatory synaptic transmission in Kenyon cells in the adult Drosophila brain. This new preparation, in which whole-cell recordings and pharmacology can be combined with genetic approaches, will be critical in understanding the contribution of nAChR-mediated fast synaptic transmission to cellular plasticity in the neural circuits underlying olfactory associative learning.

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