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Understanding more about neurons and the behaviours that they influence

05 January 2021

Feeling Your Surroundings

Like many other insects, fruit flies rely on their antennas to interact with their surroundings. Contrary to popular belief, antennas are used for more than just smell; for example, they can also detect temperature, sounds, and movements. Recently, scientists set out to better understand this multi-functional appendage by studying Johnston’s organ (JO), a portion of the antennae that detects the mechanical forces that move it, like sound or wind. By tracing electrical signals sent from JO neurons as they responded to different mechanical stimuli, the team identified distinct sub-populations of JO neurons that each are activated by specific vibrations, project their electrical signals to particular brain zones, and can trigger unique behaviours like wing flapping. The resulting map, shown here with colours representing projections from different JO neuron sub-populations, tells us a bit more about how the brain processes and makes sense of the various stimuli that animals encounter day-to-day.

Written by Gaëlle Coullon

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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