MicroRNA-encoded behavior in Drosophila

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Science  13 Nov 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6262, pp. 815-820
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad0217

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The relationship between microRNA (miRNA) regulation and the specification of behavior is only beginning to be explored. We found that mutation of a single miRNA locus (miR-iab4/iab8) in Drosophila larvae affects the animal’s capacity to correct its orientation if turned upside down (self-righting). One of the miRNA targets involved in this behavior is the Hox gene Ultrabithorax, whose derepression in two metameric neurons leads to self-righting defects. In vivo neural activity analysis reveals that these neurons, the self-righting node (SRN), have different activity patterns in wild type and miRNA mutants, whereas thermogenetic manipulation of SRN activity results in changes in self-righting behavior. Our work thus reveals a miRNA-encoded behavior and suggests that other miRNAs might also be involved in behavioral control in Drosophila and other species.

MicroRNAs that control behavior

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs that regulate gene activity. They repress expression through complementary base pairing interactions with target messenger RNAs. MiRNAs are involved in regulating many cell and developmental processes. Picao-Osorio et al. find that miRNAs can also control behavior in the fruit fly Drosophila. A specific miRNA locus regulates the self-righting response in larva that ate tipped over onto their backs. The miRNA locus targets a gene required for the normal activity of two neurons involved in the self-righting response.

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