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Nervous systems must adapt to shifts in behavioural ecology. One form of adaptation is neural exaptation, in which neural circuits are co-opted to perform additional novel functions. Here, we describe the co-option of a motor-to-somatosensory circuit into an olfactory network. Many moths beat their wings during odour-tracking, whether walking or flying, causing strong oscillations of airflow around the antennae, altering odour plume structure. This self-induced sensory stimulation could impose selective pressures that influence neural circuit evolution, specifically fostering the emergence of corollary discharge circuits. In Manduca sexta, a pair of mesothoracic to deutocerebral histaminergic neurons (MDHns), project from the mesothoracic neuromere to both antennal lobes (ALs), the first olfactory neuropil. Consistent with a hypothetical role in providing the olfactory system with a corollary discharge, we demonstrate that the MDHns innervate the ALs of advanced and basal moths, but not butterflies, which differ in wing beat and flight pattern. The MDHns probably arose in crustaceans and in many arthropods innervate mechanosensory areas, but not the olfactory system. The MDHns, therefore, represent an example of architectural exaptation, in which neurons that provide motor output information to mechanosensory regions have been co-opted to provide information to the olfactory system in moths.

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Chapman PD, Bradley SP, Haught EJ, et al. Co-option of a motor-to-sensory histaminergic circuit correlates with insect flight biomechanics. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 2017;284(1859):20170339. doi:10.1098/rspb.2017.0339