New research sheds light on the origins of social behaviors

New research from Cornell University reveals that not only chemoreceptors but also the visual system significantly influence social behaviors in male fruit flies. The study, which found that enhanced visual input can overcome conventional social barriers, has implications for understanding similar mechanisms in the human brain, particularly in relation to conditions such as autism and schizophrenia.

Male fruit flies typically display antisocial behavior toward other males, preferring the company of females, which are recognized by chemical receptors. However, recent studies by biologists at Cornell University indicate that the visual system of fruit flies plays a significant role in their social interactions.

This finding provides new insights into the potential roots of various social behaviors in humans associated with conditions such as bipolar disorder and autism.

The magazine was published recently Current Biology.

Visual organization and social behavior

A lot species Animals use vision to regulate their social behaviors, but the underlying mechanisms are largely unknown. In fruit flies, vision is thought to be used expressly to detect and follow movement, not to regulate social behaviors—but the researchers found that’s not the case.

„In our study, we found that hyperactivating the visual system overrode the inhibition created by the chemical signals the male fly emits, telling the other male, 'Well, you know, I’m another male, don’t mess with me,'” said senior author Nilai Yabisi, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior. „Surprisingly, Increasing visual gain in the brain somehow overrides chemical inhibition, attracting male flies to other males.”

The researchers found that replacing GABARAP/GABAA Receptor signaling in visual feedback neurons in the male brain affected social inhibition in flies. When GABARAP is knocked down in the visual system, males unexpectedly show increased affection towards other males.

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Researchers have found that genes similar to those in the human brain control the visual neurons of fruit flies. Reduced GABA signaling in the human brain is associated with socially withdrawn traits in conditions such as autism and schizophrenia.

„Our results provide a promising way to investigate how these proteins regulate social behaviors in the mammalian brain and their potential contribution to human psychiatric conditions,” said lead author Yuda Mapuchi, Ph.D. ’23.

Reference: Yuda Mabuchi, Xinyu Qi, Lily Xi, Hein Kim, Tiongxing Jiang, and Nilai Yabisi, 5 September 2023, “Visual feedback neurons fine-tune Drosophila male courtship via GABA-mediated inhibition” Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2023.08.034

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