Olfactory behaviors assayed by computer tracking of Drosophila in a four-quadrant olfactometer

Chun Chieh Lin, Olena Riabinina, Christopher J. Potter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A key challenge in neurobiology is to understand how neural circuits function to guide appropriate animal behaviors. Drosophila melanogaster is an excellent model system for such investigations due to its complex behaviors, powerful genetic techniques, and compact nervous system. Laboratory behavioral assays have long been used with Drosophila to simulate properties of the natural environment and study the neural mechanisms underlying the corresponding behaviors (e.g. phototaxis, chemotaxis, sensory learning and memory)1-3. With the recent availability of large collections of transgenic Drosophila lines that label specific neural subsets, behavioral assays have taken on a prominent role to link neurons with behaviors4-11. Versatile and reproducible paradigms, together with the underlying computational routines for data analysis, are indispensable for rapid tests of candidate fly lines with various genotypes. Particularly useful are setups that are flexible in the number of animals tested, duration of experiments and nature of presented stimuli. The assay of choice should also generate reproducible data that is easy to acquire and analyze. Here, we present a detailed description of a system and protocol for assaying behavioral responses of Drosophila flies in a large four-field arena. The setup is used here to assay responses of flies to a single olfactory stimulus; however, the same setup may be modified to test multiple olfactory, visual or optogenetic stimuli, or a combination of these. The olfactometer setup records the activity of fly populations responding to odors, and computational analytical methods are applied to quantify fly behaviors. The collected data are analyzed to get a quick read-out of an experimental run, which is essential for efficient data collection and the optimization of experimental conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere54346
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number114
StatePublished - Aug 20 2016


  • Data analysis
  • Four-field olfactometer
  • Issue 114
  • Matlab
  • Motion tracking
  • Neurobiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory behavior assay
  • Pheromones
  • Sensory biology
  • Vinegar fly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)

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