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J Neurosci. 2012 Sep 5;32(36):12460-71. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0222-12.2012.

Characterization of Drosophila larval crawling at the level of organism, segment, and somatic body wall musculature.

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Institute of Neuroscience, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Neurosci. 2013 Mar 20;33(12):5433.


Understanding rhythmic behavior at the developmental and genetic levels has important implications for neurobiology, medicine, evolution, and robotics. We studied rhythmic behavior--larval crawling--in the genetically and developmentally tractable organism, Drosophila melanogaster. We used narrow-diameter channels to constrain behavior to simple, rhythmic crawling. We quantified crawling at the organism, segment, and muscle levels. We showed that Drosophila larval crawling is made up of a series of periodic strides. Each stride consists of two phases. First, while most abdominal segments remain planted on the substrate, the head, tail, and gut translocate; this "visceral pistoning" moves the center of mass. The movement of the center of mass is likely powered by muscle contractions in the head and tail. Second, the head and tail anchor while a body wall wave moves each abdominal segment in the direction of the crawl. These two phases can be observed occurring independently in embryonic stages before becoming coordinated at hatching. During forward crawls, abdominal body wall movements are powered by simultaneous contraction of dorsal and ventral muscle groups, which occur concurrently with contraction of lateral muscles of the adjacent posterior segment. During reverse crawls, abdominal body wall movements are powered by phase-shifted contractions of dorsal and ventral muscles; and ventral muscle contractions occur concurrently with contraction of lateral muscles in the adjacent anterior segment. This work lays a foundation for use of Drosophila larva as a model system for studying the genetics and development of rhythmic behavior.

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