Amino acids are important nutrients for animals, reflected in conserved internal pathways in vertebrates and invertebrates for monitoring cellular levels of these compounds. In mammals, sensory cells and metabotropic glutamate receptor-related taste receptors that detect environmental sources of amino acids in food are also well-characterised. By contrast, it is unclear how insects perceive this class of molecules through peripheral chemosensory mechanisms. Here we investigate amino acid sensing in Drosophila melanogaster larvae, which feed ravenously to support their rapid growth. We show that larvae display diverse behaviours (attraction, aversion, neutral) towards different amino acids, which depend upon stimulus concentration. Some of these behaviours require IR76b, a member of the variant ionotropic glutamate receptor repertoire of invertebrate chemoreceptors. IR76b is broadly expressed in larval taste neurons, suggesting a role as a co-receptor. We identify a subpopulation of these neurons that displays physiological activation by some, but not all, amino acids, and which mediate suppression of feeding by high concentrations of at least a subset of these compounds. Our data reveal the first elements of a sophisticated neuronal and molecular substrate by which these animals detect and behave towards external sources of amino acids.
Amino Acids, Animals, Behavior, Animal, Brain, Calcium, Drosophila, Drosophila Proteins, Larva, Mutagenesis, Neurons, Receptors, Ionotropic Glutamate, Sodium Channels