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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Dec 13;108(50):20201-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1107489109. Epub 2011 Nov 28.

Distinct molecular underpinnings of Drosophila olfactory trace conditioning.

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  • 1Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, NY 11724, USA.


Trace conditioning is valued as a simple experimental model to assess how the brain associates events that are discrete in time. Here, we adapted an olfactory trace conditioning procedure in Drosophila melanogaster by training fruit flies to avoid an odor that is followed by foot shock many seconds later. The molecular underpinnings of the learning are distinct from the well-characterized simultaneous conditioning, where odor and punishment temporally overlap. First, Rutabaga adenylyl cyclase (Rut-AC), a putative molecular coincidence detector vital for simultaneous conditioning, is dispensable in trace conditioning. Second, dominant-negative Rac expression, thought to sustain early labile memory, significantly enhances learning of trace conditioning, but leaves simultaneous conditioning unaffected. We further show that targeting Rac inhibition to the mushroom body (MB) but not the antennal lobe (AL) suffices to achieve the enhancement effect. Moreover, the absence of trace conditioning learning in D1 dopamine receptor mutants is rescued by restoration of expression specifically in the adult MB. These results suggest the MB as a crucial neuroanatomical locus for trace conditioning, which may harbor a Rac activity-sensitive olfactory "sensory buffer" that later converges with the punishment signal carried by dopamine signaling. The distinct molecular signature of trace conditioning revealed here shall contribute to the understanding of how the brain overcomes a temporal gap in potentially related events.

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