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UCSB researchers identify the mechanisms underlying salt-mediated behaviors in fruit flies
Date:6/14/2013

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Next time you see a fruit fly in your kitchen, don't swat it. That fly could have a major impact on our progress in deciphering sensory biology and animal behavior, including someday providing a better understanding of the human brain.

UC Santa Barbara researchers in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) and the Neuroscience Research Institute (NRI) have been studying the mechanisms underlying salt taste coding of Drosophila (fruit flies). And they have made some rather remarkable discoveries. Their findings appear today in the journal Science.

The work done by Craig Montell, Duggan Professor of MCDB and Neuroscience, and his team not only explains the fundamental question of how an animal chooses low salt over high salt, but also unravels the mechanism for how gustatory receptor neurons (GRNs) are activated by salt, an essential nutrient for all animals, including humans.

The fact that animals are attracted to low-salt foods and reject food with high salt is well known. However, it remains unclear how low-salt and high-salt taste perceptions are differentially encoded in gustatory receptor cells, and how they induce distinct behavioral responses. The researchers' findings solve this mystery.

Fruit flies use two distinct types of salt GRNs to respond to different concentrations of salt. One type is activated maximally by low salt and induces attractive feeding behavior. The other class, activated primarily by high salt, leads to aversive feeding behavior. Montell and his colleagues found that these two types of neurons compete with each other to regulate the animal's behavioral outputs. The net outcome of the salt behavioral response is determined by the relative strength of salt-attractive GRNs and salt-aversive GRNs. The identification of the mechanism underlying the coding of salt taste in GRNs represents a conceptual breakthrough.

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Contact: George Foulsham
george.foulsham@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-3071
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert

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