Relative to other nutrients, less is known about how animals sense amino acids and how behaviour is organized accordingly. This is a significant gap in our knowledge, because amino acids are required for protein synthesis−and hence for life as we know it. Choosing larvae as a study case, we provide the first systematic analysis of both the preference behaviour for and the learning of all 20 canonical amino acids in Drosophila. We report that preference for individual amino acids differs according to the kind of amino acid, both in first-instar and in third-instar larvae. Our data suggest that this preference profile changes across larval instars, and that starvation during the third instar also alters this profile. Only aspartic acid turns out to be robustly attractive across all our experiments. The essentiality of amino acids does not appear to be a determinant of preference. Interestingly, although amino acids thus differ in their innate attractiveness, we find that all amino acids are equally rewarding. Similar discrepancies between innate attractiveness and reinforcing effect have previously been reported for other tastants, including sugars, bitter substances and salt. The present analyses will facilitate the ongoing search for the receptors, sensory neurons, and internal, homeostatic amino acid sensors in Drosophila.
- Received June 29, 2016.
- Accepted February 8, 2017.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd
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