Attention-like deficit and hyperactivity in a Drosophila memory mutant

Author(s): vanSwinderen B, Brembs B


The primary function of a brain is to produce adaptive behavioral choices by selecting the right action at the right time. In humans, attention determines action selection as well as memory formation, whereas memories also guide which external stimuli should be attended to (Chun and Turk-Browne, 2007). The complex codependence of attention, memory, and action selection makes approaching the neurobiological basis of these interactions difficult in higher animals. Therefore, a successful reductionist approach is to turn to simpler systems for unraveling such complex biological problems. In a constantly changing environment, even simple animals have evolved attention-like processes to effectively filter incoming sensory stimuli. These processes can be studied in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, by a variety of behavioral and electrophysiological techniques. Recent work has shown that mutations affecting olfactory memory formation in Drosophila also produce distinct defects in visual attention-like behavior (van Swinderen, 2007; van Swinderen et al., 2009). In this study, we extend those results to describe visual attention-like defects in the Drosophila memory consolidation mutant radish(1). In both behavioral and brain-recording assays, radish mutant flies consistently displayed responses characteristic of a reduced attention span, with more frequent perceptual alternations and more random behavior compared with wild-type flies. Some attention-like defects were successfully rescued by administering a drug commonly used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in humans, methylphenidate. Our results suggest that a balance between persistence and flexibility is crucial for adaptive action selection in flies and that this balance requires radish gene function.

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