Responses of Drosophila giant descending neurons to visual and mechanical stimuli

Laiyong Mu, Jonathan P. Bacon, Kei Ito, Nicholas J. Strausfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


In Drosophila, the paired giant descending neurons (GDNs), also known as giant fibers, and the paired giant antennal mechanosensory descending neurons (GAMDNs), are supplied by visual and mechanosensory inputs. Both neurons have the largest cell bodies in the brain and both supply slender axons to the neck connective. The GDN axon thereafter widens to become the largest axon in the thoracic ganglia, supplying information to leg extensor and wing depressor muscles. The GAMDN axon remains slender, interacting with other descending neuron axons medially. GDN and GAMDN dendrites are partitioned to receive inputs from antennal mechanosensory afferents and inputs from the optic lobes. Although GDN anatomy has been well studied in Musca domestica, less is known about the Drosophila homolog, including electrophysiological responses to sensory stimuli. Here we provide detailed anatomical comparisons of the GDN and the GAMDN, characterizing their sensory inputs. The GDN showed responses to light-on and light-off stimuli, expanding stimuli that result in luminance decrease, mechanical stimulation of the antennae, and combined mechanical and visual stimulation. We show that ensembles of lobula columnar neurons (type Col A) and mechanosensory antennal afferents are likely responsible for these responses. The reluctance of the GDN to spike in response to stimulation confirms observations of the Musca GDN. That this reluctance may be a unique property of the GDN is suggested by comparisons with the GAMDN, in which action potentials are readily elicited by mechanical and visual stimuli. The results are discussed in the context of descending pathways involved in multimodal integration and escape responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2121-2129
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 1 2014


  • Antennal mechanosensory region
  • Drosophila
  • Giant descending neurons
  • Giant fiber
  • Lobula
  • Multimodal integration
  • Whole-cell patch clamp

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Responses of Drosophila giant descending neurons to visual and mechanical stimuli'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this