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The Drosophila FoxP gene is necessary for operant self-learning: Implications for the evolutionary o
AuthorBjörn Brembs
Author email bjoern©
Author website
DescriptionIn humans, mutations of the transcription factor Forkhead box protein P2 (FoxP2) cause a severe speech and language disorder. Downregulating the Zebrafinch FoxP2 orthologue in development results in incomplete and inaccurate song imitation. Because both language and song learning can be seen as instances of operant trial-and-error learning, we investigated the involvement of the fly orthologue, FoxP, in operant self-learning in the fly. The experiments were performed using stationary flying Drosophila at the torque compensator with heat as punishment (see figure). Both a P-Element insertion and RNAi-mediated knockdown of the last exon of the Drosophila FoxP gene did not lead to alterations of the gross brain anatomy, nor to an impairment in operant world-learning, i.e., color-learning, compared to control flies. However, both fly strains were impaired in operant self-learning, i.e., yaw-torque learning without any environmental predictors. These results suggest a specific involvement of the Drosophila FoxP gene in the neural plasticity underlying operant self-learning but not other forms of learning. Preliminary results suggest that FoxP is also involved in habit formation. To investigate the effects of RNAi knockdown and P-Element insertion on FoxP abundance and localization in the fly central nervous system, we have generated polyclonal chicken antibodies against four different regions of the putative FoxP protein. ELISA results show specific detection of the peptides by the four antibodies. Analysis of FoxP expression patterns on the mRNA as well as on the protein level shows differential FoxP expression in the different fly strains.
Perhaps not surprisingly, these results suggest that one of the evolutionary roots of language is the ability to directly modify behavioral circuits. It is noteworthy, however, that these roots can apparently be traced back to the Ur-bilaterian, the last common ancestor of vertebrates and invertebrates.
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