Ionotropic Receptors Specify the Morphogenesis of Phasic Sensors Controlling Rapid Thermal Preference in Drosophila


Thermosensation is critical for avoiding thermal extremes and regulating body temperature. While thermosensors activated by noxious temperatures respond to hot or cold, many innocuous thermosensors exhibit robust baseline activity and lack discrete temperature thresholds, suggesting they are not simply warm and cool detectors. Here, we investigate how the aristal Cold Cells encode innocuous temperatures in Drosophila. We find they are not cold sensors but cooling-activated and warming-inhibited phasic thermosensors that operate similarly at warm and cool temperatures; we propose renaming them “Cooling Cells.” Unexpectedly, Cooling Cell thermosensing does not require the previously reported Brivido Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels. Instead, three Ionotropic Receptors (IRs), IR21a, IR25a, and IR93a, specify both the unique structure of Cooling Cell cilia endings and their thermosensitivity. Behaviorally, Cooling Cells promote both warm and cool avoidance. These findings reveal a morphogenetic role for IRs and demonstrate the central role of phasic thermosensing in innocuous thermosensation.