Neuroanatomy of the Drosophila Larva



With its only about 10.000 neurons, the central nervous system of the Drosophila larva is sufficiently small to enable a complete anatomical reconstruction with all neurons and their connectivity. At the same time, the larva and its behaviour are complex enough to be of interest for neuroethology, and Drosophila is arguably the most important model organism in contemporary biology.

Scientific Questions

In this project, we develop methods that support neurobiological research on the larval Drosophila brain, for the analysis of light microscopical and electron microscopical data, as well as for reconstructed 3D neuron structures, so-called “neuron skeletons”.

In particular, we have constructed a standard brain (central nervous system) from light-microscopical image stacks of the Drosophila larva. With the help of our software larvalign, users can now register their own image stacks into the reference coordinate system defined by the standard brain (Muenzing et al., 2018). A follow-up project focusses on multimodal registrations between light microscopical and electron microscopical scans.

We have also developed computational tools for data analysis and visualization of neuroanatomical data, such as anatomical reconstructions of individual neurons: Simplified, but topologicaly correct, dendrogram sketches of 3D neuron skeletons allow visualizing morphologically complex neurons and their connectivity in local neural circuits (Strauch et al, 2018, Schleyer et al., 2020).


External Funding

  • DFG Research Grant, “The larval 4D standard brain of Drosophila melanogaster on a single cell level”, Project nr. 266382180
  • DFG Research Grant, “Larvalbrain 2.0: A research platform for the larval brain of Drosophila melanogaster”, Project nr. 441181781




Michael Schleyer, Alice Weiglein, Juliane Thoener, Martin Strauch, Volker Hartenstein, Melisa Kantar Weigelt, Sarah Schuller, Timo Saumweber, Katharina Eichler, Astrid Rohwedder, Dorit Merhof, Marta Zlatic, Andreas Stefan Thum and Bertram Gerber
Identification of dopaminergic neurons that can both establish associative memory and acutely terminate its behavioral expression
In: Journal of Neuroscience 40 (31)


Martin Strauch, Volker Hartenstein, Ingrid V. Andrade, Albert Cardona and Dorit Merhof
Annotated dendrograms for neurons from the larval fruit fly brain.
In: Eurographics Workshop on Visual Computing for Biology and Medicine (VCBM)


Sascha E.A. Muenzing, Martin Strauch, James W. Truman, Katja Bühler, Andreas Thum and Dorit Merhof
larvalign: Aligning gene expression patterns from the larval brain of Drosophila melanogaster
In: Neuroinformatics 16 (1)


Sascha E.A. Muenzing, Andreas S. Thum, Katja Bühler and Dorit Merhof
Evaluation of multi-channel image registration of the central nervous system of Drosophila larvae
In: Bildverarbeitung für die Medizin (BVM)