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Health

Cognitive morphs in Drosophila

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJuly 19, 2007 10:07 PM

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Natural polymorphism affecting learning and memory in Drosophila:

Knowing which genes contribute to natural variation^ in learning and memory would help us understand how differences^ in these cognitive traits evolve among populations and species.^ We show that a natural polymorphism at the foraging (for) locus,^ which encodes a cGMP-dependent protein kinase (PKG), affects^ associative olfactory learning in Drosophila melanogaster. In^ an assay that tests the ability to associate an odor with mechanical^ shock,

flies homozygous for one natural allelic variant of this^ gene (

(

for^R

) showed better short-term but poorer long-term memory^ than flies homozygous for another natural allele

for^s

). The^

for^s

allele is characterized by reduced PKG activity. We showed^ that

for^R

-like levels of both short-term learning and long-term^ memory can be induced in

for^s

flies by selectively increasing^ the level of PKG in the mushroom bodies, which are centers of^ olfactory learning in the fly brain. Thus, the natural polymorphism^ at for may mediate an evolutionary tradeoff between short- and^ long-term memory.

The respective strengths of learning performance^ of the two genotypes seem coadapted

with their effects on foraging^ behavior:

for^R

flies move more between food patches and so could^ particularly benefit from fast learning, whereas

for^s

flies^ are more sedentary, which should favor good long-term memory.

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