Advances in genetic methods have enabled the study of genes involved in human neurodegenerative diseases using Drosophila as a model system. Most of these diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease are characterized by age-dependent deterioration in learning and memory functions and movement coordination. Here we use behavioral assays, including the negative geotaxis assay and the aversive phototaxic suppression assay (APS assay), to show that some of the behavior characteristics associated with human neurodegeneration can be recapitulated in flies. In the negative geotaxis assay, the natural tendency of flies to move against gravity when agitated is utilized to study genes or conditions that may hinder locomotor capacities. In the APS assay, the learning and memory functions are tested in positively-phototactic flies trained to associate light with aversive bitter taste and hence avoid this otherwise natural tendency to move toward light. Testing these trained flies 6 hours post-training is used to assess memory functions. Using these assays, the contribution of any genetic or environmental factors toward developing neurodegeneration can be easily studied in flies.
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