Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Robin Lewis Cooper


In this dissertation, I have focused on the role of serotonin (5-HT) as a modulator in heart rate, feeding and locomotion behaviors as well as sensorimotor circuit activity in Drosophila melanogaster. A general overview in the actions of the serotonergic (5-HTergic) system on the larval heart and nervous system in larvae and adults is reviewed in Chapter One. I sought to further study the actions of serotonergic system to provide additional insights into cellular and molecular underpinnings in the actions of 5-HT.In Chapter two, I present studies on mechanisms of action by 5-HT in larvae cardiac system. For this purpose, genetic and pharmacological approaches were used. The transgenic flies used expressed hM4Di receptors (designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADDs)) which were employed to manipulate the activity of Gαi heterotrimeric protein through activation of engineered G-protein coupled receptors hM4Di DREADD. The activation of hM4Di DREADD receptors by clozapine-N-oxide (CNO) arrested the heart beat; however, pharmacological manipulation of adenylyl cyclase activity and cAMP levels had no significant effect on heart rate. In Chapter Three the role of various 5-HT receptor subtypes that mediate 5-HT action in larval cardiac tissue is addressed. In this study, various 5-HT agonists and antagonists were employed. The pharmacological results demonstrate that a 5-HT2 agonist significantly increases the heart rate. Furthermore, 5-HT2 antagonist, markedly reduces the effect of 5-HT. In addition, I employed genetic approaches to corroborate the pharmacological results.

In addition, I investigated the role of the 5-HTergic system in locomotion and feeding behaviors as well as in modulation of sensorimotor circuits. This study is delineated in Chapter Four. The 5-HT biosynthesis was dysregulated by feeding Drosophila larvae various pharmacological agents. 5-HT receptor subtypes were manipulated using RNA interference mediated knockdown and 5-HT receptor insertional mutations. Moreover, synaptic transmission at 5-HT neurons was blocked or induced in both larvae and adult flies. The results demonstrate that disruption of components within the 5-HT system significantly impairs locomotor activity and feeding behavior in larvae. In addition, acute activation of 5-HT neurons disrupts normal locomotor activity in adult flies. In Chapter Five, I addressed direct actions of fluoxetine on synaptic transmission at neuromuscular junctions (NMJs), neural properties, and cardiac function unrelated to fluoxetine’s action as a selective 5-HT reuptake inhibitor using Drosophila, crayfish and primary neurons in mouse model system. Fluoxetine application blocked action potentials in crayfish axons, enhanced occurrences of spontaneous synaptic vesicle fusion events at NMJs of both Drosophila and crayfish. In rodent primary neurons, fluoxetine application resulted in increase of cytoplasmic Ca2+.

I also developed teaching modules, which are presented in Chapter Seven, to guide students how to exploit a vast array of genetic tools, such as optogenetics in Drosophila to manipulate various neural circuits and to observe their effects on behavior and sensorimotor circuit activity. I also developed a module to teach college level students a hands-on experiment regarding proprioception and tension receptors in crab limb, which is detailed in Chapter Eight.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)