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UCSB researchers identify the mechanisms underlying salt-mediated behaviors in fruit flies
Date:6/14/2013

ately, what we want to understand is behavior, which depends on sensory input and an animal's genetic makeup," said Montell. "Once you have this information and the neuronal wiring, you can predict the behavior of a population of animals.

By focusing on behavior and perception in fruit flies, it may be just a few years before we have a rather impressive understanding about how sensory perceptions translate into behavior. That's why there's so much attention paid to model organisms like flies."

The paper also demonstrates that a member of the newly discovered ionotropic receptor (IR) family, IR76b, is required for low-salt sensation. Moreover, IR76b codes for a previously unrecognized class of GRNs separate from those that respond to sweet or bitter foods. Loss of IR76b selectively impaired the attractive low-salt pathway, causing low salt to become aversive to the mutant animals.

"The demonstration that IR76b is a Na+ leak channel suggests an unusual mechanism for activating a sensory neuron," said Montell. "We describe a mechanism for neuronal depolarization that is mediated by a change in the concentration of an extracellular ion (Na+), rather than activation of a receptor or ion channel by a specific agonist, leading to opening of a channel gate."

These findings provide compelling genetic evidence supporting the concept that the opposing behavioral responses to low and high salt are determined largely by competition between two newly identified types of salt-responsive GRNs.

"Not only does this comment on how salt perception may occur in many animals throughout the animal kingdom," Montell said, "but if we can fully understand how aversive and attractive sensory signals work in fruit flies, there may be future potential for controlling insect pests. Fruit flies provide a model for insects that spread disease, so one day we may be able to use thermosensory and chemosensory receptors to provide new strategies to contro
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Contact: George Foulsham
george.foulsham@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-3071
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert

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