Activation and modulation of sensory-guided behaviors by biogenic amines assure appropriate adaptations to changes in an insect’s environment. Given its genetic tool kit Drosophila melanogaster represents an excellent model organism to study larger networks of neurons by optophysiological methods. Here, we studied stationary crawling movements of 3rd instar larvae and revealed how the octopaminergic VUM neuron system reacts during crawling behavior and tactile stimulations. We conducted calcium imaging experiments on dissections of the isolated nervous system (missing all sensory input) and found spontaneous rhythmic wave pattern of neuronal activity in VUM neuron clusters over the range of thoracic and abdominal neuromeres in the VNC. In contrast, in vivo preparations (semi-intact animals, receiving sensory input) did not reveal such spontaneous rhythmic pattern. However, tactile stimulations activated different clusters of the VUM neuron system simultaneously in these preparations. The activation intensity of VUM neurons in the VNC was correlated with the location and degree of body wall stimulation. While VUM neuron cluster near the respective location of body wall stimulation were less activated more distant cluster showed stronger activation. Repeated gentle touch stimulations led to decreased response intensities, repeated harsh stimulations resulted in increasing intensities over trials. Optophysiological signals correlated highly with crawling behavior in freely moving larvae stimulated similarly. We conclude that the octopaminergic system is strongly coupled to the neuronal pattern generator of crawling movements and that it is simultaneously activated by physical stimulation, rather intensity than sequential coded. We hope that our work raises the interest in whole biogenic network activity and shows that octopamine release does not only underlie "the more the better" principle but instead has a more complex function in control and modulation of insect’s locomotion.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience