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Fei H, Chow DM, Chen A, Romero-Calderon R, Ong WS, Ackerson LC, Maidment NT, Simpson JH, Frye MA, Krantz DE. 2010. Mutation of the Drosophila vesicular GABA transporter disrupts visual figure detection. J Exp Biol 213: 1717-1730. Full Article

The role of gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) release and inhibitory neurotransmission in regulating most behaviors remains unclear. The vesicular GABA transporter (VGAT) is required for the storage of GABA in synaptic vesicles and provides a potentially useful probe for inhibitory circuits. However, specific pharmacologic agents for VGAT are not available, and VGAT knockout mice are embryonically lethal, thus precluding behavioral studies. We have identified the Drosophila ortholog of the vesicular GABA transporter gene (which we refer to as dVGAT), immunocytologically mapped dVGAT protein expression in the larva and adult and characterized a dVGAT(minos) mutant allele. dVGAT is embryonically lethal and we do not detect residual dVGAT expression, suggesting that it is either a strong hypomorph or a null. To investigate the function of VGAT and GABA signaling in adult visual flight behavior, we have selectively rescued the dVGAT mutant during development. We show that reduced GABA release does not compromise the active optomotor control of wide-field pattern motion. Conversely, reduced dVGAT expression disrupts normal object tracking and figure-ground discrimination. These results demonstrate that visual behaviors are segregated by the level of GABA signaling in flies, and more generally establish dVGAT as a model to study the contribution of GABA release to other complex behaviors.

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