Although animals switch to backward walking upon sensing an obstacle or danger in their path, the initiation and execution of backward locomotion is poorly understood. The discovery of Moonwalker Descending Neurons (MDNs), made Drosophila useful to study neural circuits underlying backward locomotion. MDNs were demonstrated to receive visual and mechanosensory inputs. However, whether other modalities converge onto MDNs and what are the neural circuits activating MDNs are unknown. We show that aversive but not appetitive olfactory input triggers MDN mediated backward locomotion. We identify in each hemisphere, a single Moonwalker Subesophageal Zone neuron (MooSEZ), which triggers backward locomotion. MooSEZs act both upstream and in parallel to MDNs. Surprisingly, MooSEZs also respond mostly to aversive odors. Contrary to MDNs, blocking MooSEZs activity has little effect on odor-evoked backward locomotion. Thus, this work reveals another important modality input to MDNs in addition to a novel olfactory pathway and MDN-independent backward locomotion pathway.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience