Neural correlates of individual odor preference in Drosophila

  1. Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
  2. Center for Brain Science, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
  3. Present address: Department of Entomology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison WI, 53706, USA
  4. McGovern Institute, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
  5. MIT Media Lab, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
  6. Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, VA 20147, USA
  7. Present address: Department of Biological Sciences/Chemistry, University of Illinois Chicago, Chicago, IL 60607, USA
  8. Department of Biological Engineering, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA
  9. Koch Institute, Department of Biology, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
  10. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Chevy Chase, MD 20815, USA
  11. Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

Editors

  • Reviewing Editor
    Markus Meister
    California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States of America
  • Senior Editor
    Albert Cardona
    University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

Summary: The authors seek to establish what aspects of nervous system structure and function may explain behavioral differences across individual fruit flies. The behavior in question is a preference for one odor or another in a choice assay. The variables related to neural function are odor responses in olfactory receptor neurons or in the second-order projection neurons, measured via calcium imaging. A different variable related to neural structure is the density of a presynaptic protein BRP. The authors measure these variables in the same fly along with the behavioral bias in the odor assays. Then they look for correlations across flies between the structure-function data and the behavior.

Strengths: Where behavioral biases originate is a question of fundamental interest in the field. In an earlier paper (Honegger 2019) this group showed that flies do vary with regard to odor preference, and that there exists neural variation in olfactory circuits, but did not connect the two in the same animal. Here they do, which is a categorical advance, and opens the door to establishing a correlation. The authors inspect many such possible correlations. The underlying experiments reflect a great deal of work, and appear to be done carefully. The reporting is clear and transparent: All the data underlying the conclusions are shown, and associated code is available online.

Weaknesses: The results are overstated. The correlations reported here are uniformly small, and don't inspire confidence that there is any causal connection. The main problems are
1. The target effect to be explained is itself very weak. Odor preference of a given fly varies considerably across time. The systematic bias distinguishing one fly from another is small compared to the variability. Because the neural measurements are by necessity separated in time from the behavior, this noise places serious limits on any correlation between the two.
2. The correlations reported here are uniformly weak and not robust. In several of the key figures, the elimination of one or two outlier flies completely abolishes the relationship. The confidence bounds on the claimed correlations are very broad. These uncertainties propagate to undermine the eventual claims for a correspondence between neural and behavioral measures.
3. Some aspects of the statistical treatment are unusual. Typically a model is proposed for the relationship between neuronal signals and behavior, and the model predictions are correlated with the actual behavioral data. The normal practice is to train the model on part of the data and test it on another part. But here the training set at times includes the testing set, which tends to give high correlations from overfitting. Other times the testing set gives much higher correlations than the training set, and then the results from the testing set are reported. Where the authors explored many possible relationships, it is unclear whether the significance tests account for the many tested hypotheses. The main text quotes the key results without confidence limits.

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

Summary:
The authors aimed to identify the neural sources of behavioral variation in a decision between odor and air, or between two odors.

Strengths:
-The question is of fundamental importance.
-The behavioral studies are automated, and high-throughput.
-The data analyses are sophisticated and appropriate.
-The paper is clear and well-written aside from some strong wording.
-The figures beautifully illustrate their results.
-The modeling efforts mechanistically ground observed data correlations.

Weaknesses:
-The correlations between behavioral variations and neural activity/synapse morphology are (i) relatively weak, (ii) framed using the inappropriate words "predict", "link", and "explain", and (iii) sometimes non-intuitive (e.g., PC 1 of neural activity).
-No attempts were made to perturb the relevant circuits to establish a causal relationship between behavioral variations and functional/morphological variations.

Reviewer #3 (Public Review):

Churgin et. al. seeks to understand the neural substrates of individual odor preference in the Drosophila antennal lobe, using paired behavioral testing and calcium imaging from ORNs and PNs in the same flies, and testing whether ORN and PN odor responses can predict behavioral preference. The manuscript's main claims are that ORN activity in response to a panel of odors is predictive of the individual's preference for 3-octanol (3-OCT) relative to clean air, and that activity in the projection neurons is predictive of both 3-OCT vs. air preference and 3-OCT vs. 4-methylcyclohexanol (MCH). They find that the difference in density of fluorescently-tagged brp (a presynaptic marker) in two glomeruli (DC2 and DM2) trends towards predicting behavioral preference between 3-oct vs. MCH. Implementing a model of the antennal lobe based on the available connectome data, they find that glomerulus-level variation in response reminiscent of the variation that they observe can be generated by resampling variables associated with the glomeruli, such as ORN identity and glomerular synapse density.

Strengths:
The authors investigate a highly significant and impactful problem of interest to all experimental biologists, nearly all of whom must often conduct their measurements in many different individuals and so have a vested interest in understanding this problem. The manuscript represents a lot of work, with challenging paired behavioral and neural measurements.

Weaknesses:
The overall impression is that the authors are attempting to explain complex, highly variable behavioral output with a comparatively limited set of neural measurements. Given the degree of behavioral variability they observe within an individual (Figure 1- supp 1) which implies temporal/state/measurement variation in behavior, it's unclear that their degree of sampling can resolve true individual variability (what they call "idiosyncrasy") in neural responses, given the additional temporal/state/measurement variation in neural responses. The statistical analyses in the manuscript are underdeveloped, and it's unclear the degree to which the correlations reported have explanatory (causative) power in accounting for organismal behavior.

Author Response

We thank the reviewers for their suggestions. We are confident in the model that predicts odor vs odor (OCT-MCH) preference using calcium activity, but we acknowledge the relative weakness of the model that predicts odor (OCT) vs air preference. We are preparing an updated manuscript that will prioritize our interpretation of the OCT-MCH results and more fully document uncertainties around our estimates of prediction capacity.

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

Summary: The authors seek to establish what aspects of nervous system structure and function may explain behavioral differences across individual fruit flies. The behavior in question is a preference for one odor or another in a choice assay. The variables related to neural function are odor responses in olfactory receptor neurons or in the second-order projection neurons, measured via calcium imaging. A different variable related to neural structure is the density of a presynaptic protein BRP. The authors measure these variables in the same fly along with the behavioral bias in the odor assays. Then they look for correlations across flies between the structure-function data and the behavior.

Strengths: Where behavioral biases originate is a question of fundamental interest in the field. In an earlier paper (Honegger 2019) this group showed that flies do vary with regard to odor preference, and that there exists neural variation in olfactory circuits, but did not connect the two in the same animal. Here they do, which is a categorical advance, and opens the door to establishing a correlation. The authors inspect many such possible correlations. The underlying experiments reflect a great deal of work, and appear to be done carefully. The reporting is clear and transparent: All the data underlying the conclusions are shown, and associated code is available online.

We are glad to hear the reviewer is supportive of the general question and approach.

Weaknesses: The results are overstated. The correlations reported here are uniformly small, and don't inspire confidence that there is any causal connection. The main problems are

We are working on a revision that overhauls the interpretations of the results. We recognize that the current version inadequately distinguishes the results that we have high confidence in (specifically, PC2 of our Ca++ data as a predictor of OCT-MCH preference) versus results that are suggestive but not definitive (such as the PC1 of Ca++ data as a predictor of Air-OCT preference).

It’s true that the correlations are small, with r2 values typically in the 0.1-0.2 range. That said, we would call it a victory if we could explain 10 to 20% of the variance of a behavior measure, captured in a 3 minute experiment, with a circuit correlate. This is particularly true because, as the reviewer notes, the behavioral measurement is noisy.

  1. The target effect to be explained is itself very weak. Odor preference of a given fly varies considerably across time. The systematic bias distinguishing one fly from another is small compared to the variability. Because the neural measurements are by necessity separated in time from the behavior, this noise places serious limits on any correlation between the two.

This is broadly correct, though to quibble, it’s our measurement of odor preference which varies considerably over time. We are reasonably confident that the more variance in our measurements can be attributed to sampling error than changes to true preference over time. As evidence, the correlation in sequential measures of individual odor preference, with delays of 3 hours or 24 hours, are not obviously different. We are separately working on methodological improvements to get more precise estimates of persistent individual odor preference, using averages of multiple, spaced measurements. This is promising, but beyond the scope of this study.

  1. The correlations reported here are uniformly weak and not robust. In several of the key figures, the elimination of one or two outlier flies completely abolishes the relationship. The confidence bounds on the claimed correlations are very broad. These uncertainties propagate to undermine the eventual claims for a correspondence between neural and behavioral measures.

We are broadly receptive to this criticism. The lack of robustness of some results comes from the fundamental challenge of this work: measuring behavior is noisy at the individual level. Measuring Ca++ is also somewhat noisy. Correlating the two will be underpowered unless the sample size is huge (which is impractical, as each data point requires a dissection and live imaging session) or the effect size is large (which is generally not the case in biology). In the current version we tried to in some sense to avoid discussing these challenges head-on, instead trying to focus on what we thought were the conclusions justified by our experiments with sample sizes ranging from 20 to 60. We are working on a revision that is more candid about these challenges.

That said, we believe the result we view as the most exciting — that PC2 of Ca++ responses predicts OCT-MCH preference — is robust. 1) It is based on a training set with 47 individuals and a test set composed of 22 individuals. The p-value is sufficiently low in each of these sets (0.0063 and 0.0069, respectively) to pass an overly stringent Bonferonni correction for the 5 tests (each PC) in this analysis. 2) The BRP immunohistochemistry provides independent evidence that is consistent with this result — PC2 that predicts behavior (p = 0.03 from only one test) and has loadings that contrast DC2 and DM2. Taken together, these results are well above the field-standard bar of statistical robustness.

In the revision we are working on, we are explicit that this is the (one) result we have high confidence in. We believe this result convincingly links Ca++ and behavior, and warrants spotlighting. We have less confidence in other results, and say so, and we hope this addresses concerns about overstating our results.

  1. Some aspects of the statistical treatment are unusual. Typically a model is proposed for the relationship between neuronal signals and behavior, and the model predictions are correlated with the actual behavioral data. The normal practice is to train the model on part of the data and test it on another part. But here the training set at times includes the testing set, which tends to give high correlations from overfitting. Other times the testing set gives much higher correlations than the training set, and then the results from the testing set are reported. Where the authors explored many possible relationships, it is unclear whether the significance tests account for the many tested hypotheses. The main text quotes the key results without confidence limits.

Our primary analyses are exactly what the reviewer describes, scatter plots and correlations of actual behavioral measures against predicted measures. We produced test data in separate experiments, conducted weeks to months after models were fit on training data. This is more rigorous than splitting into training and test sets data collected in a single session, as batch/environmental effects reduce the independence of data collected within a single session.

We only collected a test set when our training set produced a promising correlation between predicted and actual behavioral measures. We never used data from test sets to train models. In our main figures, we showed scatter plots that combined test and training data, as the training and test partitions had similar correlations.

We are unsure what the reviewer means by instances where we explored many possible relationships. The greatest number of comparisons that could lead to the rejection of a null hypothesis was 5 (corresponding to the top 5 PCs of Ca++ response variation or Brp signal). We were explicit that the p-values reported were nominal. As mentioned above, applying a Bonferroni correction for n=5 comparisons to either the training or test correlations from the Ca++ to OCT-MCH preference model remains significant at alpha=0.05.

Our revision will include confidence limits.

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

Summary:

The authors aimed to identify the neural sources of behavioral variation in a decision between odor and air, or between two odors.

Strengths:

-The question is of fundamental importance.

-The behavioral studies are automated, and high-throughput.

-The data analyses are sophisticated and appropriate.

-The paper is clear and well-written aside from some strong wording.

-The figures beautifully illustrate their results.

-The modeling efforts mechanistically ground observed data correlations.

We are glad to read that the reviewer sees these strengths in the study. We hope the forthcoming revision will address the strong wording.

Weaknesses:

-The correlations between behavioral variations and neural activity/synapse morphology are (i) relatively weak, (ii) framed using the inappropriate words "predict", "link", and "explain", and (iii) sometimes non-intuitive (e.g., PC 1 of neural activity).

Taking each of these points in turn: i) It would indeed be nicer if our empirical correlations are higher. One quibble: we primarily report relatively weak correlations between measurements of behavior and Ca++/Brp. This could be the case even when the correlation between true behavior and Ca++/Brp is higher. Our analysis of the potential correlation between latent behavioral and Ca++ signals was an attempt to tease these relationships apart. The analysis suggests that there could, in fact, be a high underlying correlation between behavior and these circuit features (though the error bars on these inferences are wide).

ii) We are working to guarantee that all such words are used appropriately. “Predict” can often be appropriate in this context, as a model predicts true data values. Explain can also be appropriate, as X “explaining” a portion of the variance of Y is synonymous with X and Y being correlated. We cannot think of formal uses of “link,” and are revising the manuscript to resolve any inappropriate word choice.

iii) If the underlying biology is rooted in non-intuitive relationships, there’s unfortunately not much we can do about it. We chose to use PCs of our Ca++/Brp data as predictors to deal with the challenge of having many potential predictors (odor-glomerular responses) and relatively few output variables (behavioral bias). Thus, using PCs is a conservative approach to deal with multiple comparisons. Because PCs are just linear transformations of the original data, interpreting them is relatively easy, and in interpreting PC1 and PC2, we were able to identify simple interpretations (total activity and the difference between DC2 and DM2 activation, respectively). All in all, we remain satisfied with this approach as a means to both 1) limit multiple comparisons and 2) interpret simple meanings from predictive PCs.

-No attempts were made to perturb the relevant circuits to establish a causal relationship between behavioral variations and functional/morphological variations.

We did conduct such experiments, but we did not report them because they had negative results that we could not definitively interpret. We used constitutive and inducible effectors to alter the physiology of ORNs projecting to DC2 and DM2. We also used UAS-LRP4 and UAS-LRP4-RNAi to attempt to increase and decrease the extent of Brp puncta in ORNs projecting to DC2 and DM2. None of these manipulations had a significant effect on mean odor preference in the OCT-MCH choice, which was the behavioral focus of these experiments. We were unable to determine if the effectors had the intended effects in the targeted Gal4 lines, particularly in the LRP experiments, so we could not rule out that our negative finding reflected a technical failure. We are reviewing these results to determine if they warrant including as a negative finding in the revision.

We believe that even if these negative results are not technical failures, they are not necessarily inconsistent with the analyses correlating features of DC2 and DM2 to behavior. Specifically, we suspect that there are correlated fluctuations in glomerular Ca++ responses and Brp across individuals, due to fluctuations in the developmental spatial patterning of the antennal lobe. Thus, the DC2-DM2 predictor may represent a slice/subset of predictors distributed across the antennal lobe. This would also explain how we “got lucky” to find two glomeruli as predictors of behavior, when were only able to image a small portion of the glomeruli. In analyses we did not report, we explored this possibility using the AL computational model. We are likely to include this interpretation in the revised discussion.

Reviewer #3 (Public Review):

Churgin et. al. seeks to understand the neural substrates of individual odor preference in the Drosophila antennal lobe, using paired behavioral testing and calcium imaging from ORNs and PNs in the same flies, and testing whether ORN and PN odor responses can predict behavioral preference. The manuscript's main claims are that ORN activity in response to a panel of odors is predictive of the individual's preference for 3-octanol (3-OCT) relative to clean air, and that activity in the projection neurons is predictive of both 3-OCT vs. air preference and 3-OCT vs. 4-methylcyclohexanol (MCH). They find that the difference in density of fluorescently-tagged brp (a presynaptic marker) in two glomeruli (DC2 and DM2) trends towards predicting behavioral preference between 3-oct vs. MCH. Implementing a model of the antennal lobe based on the available connectome data, they find that glomerulus-level variation in response reminiscent of the variation that they observe can be generated by resampling variables associated with the glomeruli, such as ORN identity and glomerular synapse density.

Strengths:

The authors investigate a highly significant and impactful problem of interest to all experimental biologists, nearly all of whom must often conduct their measurements in many different individuals and so have a vested interest in understanding this problem. The manuscript represents a lot of work, with challenging paired behavioral and neural measurements.

Weaknesses:

The overall impression is that the authors are attempting to explain complex, highly variable behavioral output with a comparatively limited set of neural measurements…

We would say that we are attempting to explain a simple, highly variable behavioral measure with a comparatively limited set of neural measurements. I.e. we make no claims to explain the complex behavioral components of odor choice, like locomotion, reversals at the odor boundary, etc.

Given the degree of behavioral variability they observe within an individual (Figure 1- supp 1) which implies temporal/state/measurement variation in behavior, it's unclear that their degree of sampling can resolve true individual variability (what they call "idiosyncrasy") in neural responses, given the additional temporal/state/measurement variation in neural responses.

We are confident that different Ca++ recordings are statistically different. This is borne out in the analysis of repeated Ca++ recordings in this study, which finds that the significant PCs of Ca++ variation contain 77% of the variation in that data. That this variation is persistent over time and across hemispheres was assessed in Honegger & Smith, et al., 2019. We are thus confident that there is true individuality in neural responses (Note, we prefer not to call it “individual variability” as this could refer to variability within individuals, not variability across individuals.) It is a separate question of whether individual differences in neural responses bear some relation to individual differences in behavioral biases. That was the focus of this study, and our finding of a robust correlation between PC2 of Ca++ responses and OCT-MCH preference indicates a relation. Because behavior and Ca++ were collected with an hours-to-day long gap, this implies that there are latent versions of both behavioral bias and Ca++ response that are stable on timescales at least that long.

The statistical analyses in the manuscript are underdeveloped, and it's unclear the degree to which the correlations reported have explanatory (causative) power in accounting for organismal behavior.

With respect, we do not think our statistical analyses are underdeveloped, though we acknowledge that the detailed reviewer suggestions included the helpful suggestion to include uncertainty in the estimation of confidence intervals around the point estimate of the strength of correlation between latent behavioral and Ca++ response states. We are considering those suggestions and anticipate responding to them in the revision.

It is indeed a separate question whether the correlations we observed represent causal links from Ca++ to behavior (though our yoked experiment suggests there is not a behavior-to-Ca++ causal relationship — at least one where odor experience through behavior is an upstream cause). We attempted to be precise in indicating that our observations are correlations. That is why we used that word in the title, as an example. In the revision, we are working to make sure this is appropriately reflected in all word choice across the paper.

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  2. Wellcome Trust
  3. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  4. Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation