ROS-mediated activation of Drosophila larval nociceptor neurons by UVC irradiation

Myung Jun Kim, Wayne A. Johnson

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25 Scopus citations


Background: The complex Drosophila larval peripheral nervous system, capable of monitoring sensory input from the external environment, includes a family of multiple dendritic (md) neurons with extensive dendritic arbors tiling the inner surface of the larval body wall. The class IV multiple dendritic (mdIV) neurons are the most complex with dendritic nerve endings forming direct intimate contacts with epithelial cells of the larval body wall. Functioning as polymodal mechanonociceptors with the ability to respond to both noxious mechanical stimulation and noxious heat, the mdIV neurons are also activated by nanomolar levels of the endogenous reactive oxygen species (ROS), H2O2. Although often associated with tissue damage related to oxidative stress, endogenous ROS have also been shown to function as signaling molecules at lower concentrations. The overall role of ROS in sensory signaling is poorly understood but the acutely sensitive response of mdIV neurons to ROS-mediated activation is consistent with a routine role in the regulation of mdIV neuronal activity. Larvae respond to short wavelength ultraviolet (UVC) light with an immediate and visual system-independent writhing and twisting of the body previously described as a nociceptive response. Molecular and cellular mechanisms mediating this response and potential relationships with ROS generation are not well understood. We have used the UVC-induced writhing response as a model for investigation of the proposed link between endogenous ROS production and mdIV neuron function in the larval body wall.Results: Transgenic inactivation of mdIV neurons caused a strong suppression of UVC-induced writhing behavior consistent with a key role for the mdIV neurons as mediators of the behavioral response. Direct imaging of ROS-activated fluorescence showed that UVC irradiation caused a significant increase in endogenous ROS levels in the larval body wall and transgenic overexpression of antioxidant enzymes strongly suppressed the UVC-induced writhing response. Direct electrophysiological recordings demonstrated that UVC irradiation also increased neuronal activity of the mdIV neurons.Conclusions: Results obtained using UVC irradiation to induce ROS generation provide evidence that UVC-induced writhing behavior is mediated by endogenous production of ROS capable of activating mdIV mechanonociceptors in the larval body wall.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number14
JournalBMC neuroscience
StatePublished - Jan 16 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Sophie Krajewski, Chelsea Bilskemper and Justin Carder for excellent technical assistance. This work was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health to WAJ (NS066287). We would like to thank the Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center for its service in providing fly stocks to the research community and acknowledge their support from NIH and NSF.


  • Behavior
  • Drosophila
  • Reactive oxygen species
  • Sensory signaling


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