Nutrient deprivation can lead to dramatic changes in feeding behavior, including acceptance of foods that are normally rejected. In flies, this behavioral shift depends in part on reciprocal sensitization and desensitization of sweet and bitter taste, respectively. However, the mechanisms for bitter taste modulation remain unclear. Here, we identify a set of octopaminergic/tyraminergic neurons, named OA-VLs, that directly modulate bitter sensory neuron output in response to starvation. OA-VLs are in close proximity to bitter sensory neuron axon terminals and show reduced tonic firing following starvation. We find that octopamine and tyramine potentiate bitter sensory neuron responses, suggesting that starvation-induced reduction in OA-VL activity depotentiates bitter taste. Consistent with this model, artificial silencing of OA-VL activity induces a starvation-like reduction in bitter sensory neuron output. These results demonstrate that OA-VLs mediate a critical step in starvation-dependent bitter taste modulation, allowing flies to dynamically balance the risks associated with bitter food consumption against the threat of severe starvation.

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Current Biology

LeDue, E.E. (Emily E.), Mann, K. (Kevin), Koch, E. (Ellen), Chu, B. (Bonnie), Dakin, R, & Gordon, M.D. (Michael D.). (2016). Starvation-Induced Depotentiation of Bitter Taste in Drosophila. Current Biology, 26(21), 2854–2861. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.08.028