On Aug.8, 2020, Wei Zhang's group published 'A neural circuit encoding mating states tunes defensive behavior in Drosophila' in Nature Communications.
Social context can dampen or amplify the perception of touch, and touch in turn conveys nuanced social information. However, the neural mechanism behind social regulation of mechanosensation is largely elusive. Here we report that fruit flies exhibit a strong defensive response to mechanical stimuli to their wings. In contrast, virgin female flies being courted by a male show a compromised defensive response to the stimuli, but following mating the response is enhanced. This state-dependent switch is mediated by a functional reconfiguration of a neural circuit labelled with the Tmc-L gene in the ventral nerve cord. The circuit receives excitatory inputs from peripheral mechanoreceptors and coordinates the defensive response. While male cues suppress it via a doublesex (dsx) neuronal pathway, mating sensitizes it by stimulating a group of uterine neurons and consequently activating a leucokinin-dependent pathway. Such a modulation is crucial for the balance between defense against body contacts and sexual receptivity.