UWIN faculty member John Tuthill and UWIN-post baccalaureate fellow Pralaksha Gurung published a paper in Neuron on how sensory neurons in a single leg joint in Drosophila (a genus of flies often lumped together as “small fruit flies”) code movements and control behavior in that joint. The paper titled “Neural Coding of Leg Proprioception in Drosophila” describes the work using fluorescent dye-based two-photon calcium imaging to isolate and investigate these specific sensory neurons.
In order to move, nearly all mobile animals rely on receptors that specialize in position and movement called proprioceptors. Challenges arise in modeling and analyzing proprioceptors due to complications in isolating the specific clusters of receptors and relating them across individuals in a species. These challenges were addressed in this paper by focusing on a specific proprioceptor group within the leg of the fruit fly – which previous research had marked as controlling precise leg movements, such as walking. In order to isolate the specific proprioceptor, a magnet and pin glued onto the fly’s tibia controlled the fly’s leg position. By measuring neuron activity during the fly’s range of leg movements, the researchers found the sub-classes of neurons that responded to different positions of the joint, as well as the neuron’s sensitivity to movements. The isolation and mapping of the cluster of neurons provides more insight into how proprioceptors aid in everyday motion.
This work helps build an understanding of how stimulation of a single leg joint is received and translated by sensory neurons, and also builds a framework for how complex feedback signals are used in the body to dictate movement. This work connects with the mission of the Air Force Center of Excellence on Nature-Inspired Flight Technologies and Ideas (NIFTI).
Previously, Dr. Tuthill won a 2018 McKnight Scholars award, was named a 2017 Allen Institute Next Generation Leader, was awarded a Sloan Fellowship, was named a 2017 Searle Scholar, and received a UW Innovation Award.