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Learn Mem. 2018 May 15;25(6):247-257. doi: 10.1101/lm.047308.118. Print 2018 Jun.

Reinforcement signaling of punishment versus relief in fruit flies.

Author information

Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Research Group Molecular Systems Biology of Learning, Magdeburg 39118, Germany.
Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg 39118, Germany.
Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Department Genetics of Learning and Memory, Magdeburg 39118, Germany.
Otto von Guericke University, Institute for Biology, Behavioural Genetics, Magdeburg 39118, Germany.
Center for Behavioral Brain Sciences, Magdeburg 39118, Germany.
HHMI, Janelia Research Campus, Ashburn, Virginia 20147, USA.
Contributed equally


Painful events establish opponent memories: cues that precede pain are remembered negatively, whereas cues that follow pain, thus coinciding with relief are recalled positively. How do individual reinforcement-signaling neurons contribute to this "timing-dependent valence-reversal?" We addressed this question using an optogenetic approach in the fruit fly. Two types of fly dopaminergic neuron, each comprising just one paired cell, indeed established learned avoidance of odors that preceded their photostimulation during training, and learned approach to odors that followed the photostimulation. This is in striking parallel to punishment versus relief memories reinforced by a real noxious event. For only one of these neuron types, both effects were strong enough for further analyses. Notably, interfering with dopamine biosynthesis in these neurons partially impaired the punishing effect, but not the relieving after-effect of their photostimulation. We discuss how this finding constraints existing computational models of punishment versus relief memories and introduce a new model, which also incorporates findings from mammals. Furthermore, whether using dopaminergic neuron photostimulation or a real noxious event, more prolonged punishment led to stronger relief. This parametric feature of relief may also apply to other animals and may explain particular aspects of related behavioral dysfunction in humans.

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