Olfactory stimuli and moonwalker SEZ neurons can drive backward locomotion in Drosophila

Shai Israel, Eyal Rozenfeld, Denise Weber, Wolf Huetteroth, Moshe Parnas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How different sensory stimuli are collected, processed, and further transformed into a coordinated motor response is a fundamental question in neuroscience. In particular, the internal and external conditions that drive animals to switch to backward walking and the mechanisms by which the nervous system supports such behavior are still unknown. In fruit flies, moonwalker descending neurons (MDNs) are considered command-type neurons for backward locomotion as they receive visual and mechanosensory inputs and transmit motor-related signals to downstream neurons to elicit backward locomotion. Whether other modalities converge onto MDNs, which central brain neurons activate MDNs, and whether other retreat-driving pathways exist is currently unknown. Here, we show that olfactory stimulation can elicit MDN-mediated backward locomotion. Moreover, we identify the moonwalker subesophageal zone neurons (MooSEZs), a pair of bilateral neurons, which can trigger straight and rotational backward locomotion. MooSEZs act via postsynaptic MDNs and via other descending neurons. Although they respond to olfactory input, they are not required for odor-induced backward walking. Thus, this work reveals an important modality input to MDNs, a novel set of neurons presynaptic to MDNs driving backward locomotion and an MDN-independent backward locomotion pathway.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1131-1149.e7
JournalCurrent biology : CB
Issue number5
StatePublished - 14 Mar 2022


  • Drosophila
  • MDNs
  • MooSEZs
  • SEZ
  • backward locomotion
  • descending neurons
  • motor control
  • neural pathways
  • olfaction
  • sensorimotor integration


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