The neurobiology of zombie flies: mechanisms of parasite host-manipulation

  • Date: Dec 6, 2022
  • Time: 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM (Local Time Germany)
  • Speaker: Benjamin de Bivort
  • Benjamin de Bivort is Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, interested in the neurobiological mechanisms of ecologically and evolutionarily relevant behaviors.
  • Room: ZT702 UKN + online
  • Host: Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior
  • Contact:
The neurobiology of zombie flies: mechanisms of parasite host-manipulation
For at least two centuries, scientists have been enthralled by the “zombie” behaviors induced by mind-controlling parasites. Despite this interest, the mechanistic bases of these uncanny processes have remained mostly a mystery. We leveraged the Entomophthora muscae-Drosophila melanogaster “zombie fly” system to reveal the molecular and cellular underpinnings of summit disease, a manipulated behavior evoked by many fungal parasites. Using high-throughput behavior assays to measure summiting, we discovered that summiting behavior is characterized by a burst of locomotion and requires the host circadian and neurosecretory systems, specifically DN1p circadian neurons, pars intercerebralis to corpora allata projecting (PI-CA) neurons and corpora allata (CA), the sole site of juvenile hormone (JH) synthesis and release. The blood-brain barrier of flies late in their infection was significantly permeabilized, suggesting that factors in the hemolymph may have greater access to the central nervous system during summiting. Metabolomic analysis of hemolymph from summiting flies revealed differential abundance of several compounds compared to non-summiting flies. Transfusing the hemolymph of summiting flies into non-summiting recipients induced a burst of locomotion, demonstrating that factor(s) in the hemolymph likely cause summiting behavior. Altogether, our work reveals a neuro-mechanistic model for summiting wherein fungal cells perturb the fly’s hemolymph, activating the neurohormonal pathway linking clock neurons to juvenile hormone production in the CA, ultimately inducing locomotor activity in their host.

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