Two genes that cause aggressive behaviour in Drosophila are reported this week in Nature Communications. The study provides further insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying aggression and how these mechanisms are conserved across different species.
Aggression is common social behaviour in animals. In mice, a transcription factor gene, Nr2e1, has been shown to have a major effect on aggressive behaviour and mutations in Nr2e1 have been associated with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and psychopathy in humans. In this study, Herman Dierick and colleagues demonstrate that knockdown of the tailless gene - the fly equivalent of mouse Nr2e1 - and its co-repressor, Atrotrophin, increase aggression in Drosophila.
The team provide evidence that the tailless gene exerts its effect by regulating the release of neuropeptides through neurosecretory cells in the pars intercerebralis, a region in the brain with functional, developmental and structural similarity to the mammalian hypothalamus. The authors further suggest that this process may represent a core mechanism that underlies aggression, not only in Drosophila, but in all animals.