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A command-like descending neuron that coordinately activates backward and inhibits forward locomotion

By Arnaldo Carreira-Rosario, Aref Arzan Zarin, Matthew Q. Clark, Laurina Manning, Richard D Fetter, Albert Cardona, Chris Q Doe

Posted 05 Jun 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/339556 (published DOI: 10.7554/eLife.38554)

Command-like descending neurons can induce many behaviors, such as backward locomotion, escape, feeding, courtship, egg-laying, or grooming. In most animals it remains unknown how neural circuits switch between these antagonistic behaviors: via top-down activation/inhibition of antagonistic circuits or via reciprocal inhibition between antagonistic circuits. Here we use genetic screens, intersectional genetics, circuit reconstruction by electron microscopy, and functional optogenetics to identify a bilateral pair of larval “mooncrawler descending neurons” (MDNs) with command-like ability to coordinately induce backward locomotion and block forward locomotion; the former by activating a backward-specific premotor neuron, and the latter by disynaptic inhibition of a forward-specific premotor neuron. In contrast, direct reciprocal inhibition between forward and backward circuits was not observed. Thus, MDNs coordinate a transition between antagonistic larval locomotor behaviors. Interestingly, larval MDNs persist into adulthood, where they can trigger backward walking. Thus, MDNs induce backward locomotion in both limbless and limbed animals.

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