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1.  Love makes smell blind: mating suppresses pheromone attraction in Drosophila females via Or65a olfactory neurons 
Scientific Reports  2014;4:7119.
In Drosophila, the male sex pheromone cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA) elicits aggregation and courtship, through the odorant receptor Or67d. Long-lasting exposure to cVA suppresses male courtship, via a second channel, Or65a. In females, the role of Or65a has not been studied. We show that, shortly after mating, Drosophila females are no longer attracted to cVA and that activation of olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) expressing Or65a generates this behavioral switch: when silencing Or65a, mated females remain responsive to cVA. Neurons expressing Or67d converge into the DA1 glomerulus in the antennal lobe, where they synapse onto projection neurons (PNs), that connect to higher neural circuits generating the attraction response to cVA. Functional imaging of these PNs shows that the DA1 glomerulus is inhibited by simultaneous activation of Or65a OSNs, which leads to a suppression of the attraction response to cVA. The behavioral role of postmating cVA exposure is substantiated by the observation that matings with starved males, which produce less cVA, do not alter the female response. Moreover, exposure to synthetic cVA abolishes attraction and decreases sexual receptivity in unmated females. Taken together, Or65a mediates an aversive effect of cVA and may accordingly regulate remating, through concurrent behavioral modulation in males and females.
PMCID: PMC4236738  PMID: 25406576
2.  A new male sex-pheromone and novel cuticular cues for chemical communication in Drosophila 
Current biology : CB  2009;19(15):1245-1254.
In many insect species, cuticular hydrocarbons serve as pheromones that can mediate complex social behaviors. In Drosophila melanogaster, several hydrocarbons including the male sex pheromone 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA) and female-specific 7,11-dienes influence courtship behavior and can function as cues for short-term memory associated with the mating experience. Behavioral and physiological studies suggest that other unidentified chemical communication cues are likely to exist. To more fully characterize the hydrocarbon profile of the D. melanogaster cuticle, we applied direct ultraviolet laser desorption/ionization orthogonal time-of-flight mass spectrometry (UV-LDI-o-TOF MS) and analyzed the surface of intact fruit flies at a spatial resolution of approximately 200 μm.
We report the chemical and spatial characterization of 28 species of cuticular hydrocarbons, including a new major class of oxygen-containing compounds. Using UV-LDI MS, pheromones previously shown to be expressed exclusively by one sex, e.g. cVA, 7,11-heptacosadiene, and 7,11-nonacosadiene, appear to be found on both male and female flies. In males, cVA co-localizes at the tip of the ejaculatory bulb with a second acetylated hydrocarbon named CH503. We describe the chemical structure of CH503 as 3-O-acetyl-1,3-dihydroxy-octacosa-11,19-diene and show one behavioral role for this compound as a long-lived inhibitor of male courtship. Like cVA, CH503 is transferred from males to females during mating. Unlike cVA, CH503 remains on the surface of females for at least 10 days.
Oxygenated hydrocarbons comprise one major previously undescribed class of compounds on the Drosophila cuticular surface. In addition to cVA, a newly-discovered long chain acetate, CH503, serves as a mediator of courtship-related chemical communication.
PMCID: PMC2726907  PMID: 19615904
3.  The smell of love in Drosophila 
Odors are key sensory signals for social communication and food search in animals including insects. Drosophila melanogaster, is a powerful neurogenetic model commonly used to reveal molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in odorant detection. Males use olfaction together with other sensory modalities to find their mates. Here, we review known olfactory signals, their related olfactory receptors, and the corresponding neuronal architecture impacting courtship. OR67d receptor detects 11-cis-Vaccenyl Acetate (cVA), a male specific pheromone transferred to the female during copulation. Transferred cVA is able to reduce female attractiveness for other males after mating, and is also suspected to decrease male-male courtship. cVA can also serve as an aggregation signal, maybe through another OR. OR47b was shown to be activated by fly odors, and to enhance courtship depending on taste pheromones. IR84a detects phenylacetic acid (PAA) and phenylacetaldehyde (PA). These two odors are not pheromones produced by flies, but are present in various fly food sources. PAA enhances male courtship, acting as a food aphrodisiac. Drosophila males have thus developed complementary olfactory strategies to help them to select their mates.
PMCID: PMC3617446  PMID: 23576993
courtship; Drosophila; olfaction; receptor; nervous system
4.  Activation of the T1 Neuronal Circuit is Necessary and Sufficient to Induce Sexually Dimorphic Mating Behavior in Drosophila 
The molecular and cellular events mediating complex behaviors in animals are largely unknown. Elucidating the circuits underlying behaviors in simple model systems may shed light on how these circuits function. In Drosophila, courtship behavior provides a tractable model for studying the underlying basis of innate behavior. The male-specific pheromone 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA) modulates courtship behavior and is detected by T1 neurons, located on the antenna of male and female flies. The T1 neurons express the odorant receptor Or67d, and are exquisitely tuned to cVA pheromone. However, cVA-induced changes in mating behavior have also been reported upon manipulation of olfactory neurons expressing odorant receptor Or65a. These findings raise the issue of whether multiple olfactory-driven circuits underlie cVA-induced behavioral responses, and what role these circuits play in behavior. Here, we engineered flies in which the Or67d circuit is specifically activated in the absence of cVA in order to determine the role of this circuit in behavior. We created transgenic flies that express a dominant-active, pheromone-independent variant of the extracellular pheromone receptor, LUSH. We found that, similar to the behaviors elicited by cVA, engineered male flies have dramatically reduced courtship, while engineered females showed enhanced courtship. Furthermore, cVA exposure did not enhance the dominant LUSH-triggered effects on behavior in the engineered flies. Finally, we show the effects of both cVA and dominant LUSH on courtship are reversed by genetically removing Or67d. These findings demonstrate that the T1/Or67d circuit is necessary and sufficient to mediate sexually dimorphic courtship behaviors.
PMCID: PMC3426441  PMID: 20164344
lush; Or67d; cVA; courtship; pheromone; olfaction
5.  A carboxylesterase, Esterase-6, modulates sensory physiological and behavioral response dynamics to pheromone in Drosophila 
BMC Biology  2012;10:56.
Insects respond to the spatial and temporal dynamics of a pheromone plume, which implies not only a strong response to 'odor on', but also to 'odor off'. This requires mechanisms geared toward a fast signal termination. Several mechanisms may contribute to signal termination, among which odorant-degrading enzymes. These enzymes putatively play a role in signal dynamics by a rapid inactivation of odorants in the vicinity of the sensory receptors, although direct in vivo experimental evidences are lacking. Here we verified the role of an extracellular carboxylesterase, esterase-6 (Est-6), in the sensory physiological and behavioral dynamics of Drosophila melanogaster response to its pheromone, cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA). Est-6 was previously linked to post-mating effects in the reproductive system of females. As Est-6 is also known to hydrolyze cVA in vitro and is expressed in the main olfactory organ, the antenna, we tested here its role in olfaction as a putative odorant-degrading enzyme.
We first confirm that Est-6 is highly expressed in olfactory sensilla, including cVA-sensitive sensilla, and we show that expression is likely associated with non-neuronal cells. Our electrophysiological approaches show that the dynamics of olfactory receptor neuron (ORN) responses is strongly influenced by Est-6, as in Est-6° null mutants (lacking the Est-6 gene) cVA-sensitive ORN showed increased firing rate and prolonged activity in response to cVA. Est-6° mutant males had a lower threshold of behavioral response to cVA, as revealed by the analysis of two cVA-induced behaviors. In particular, mutant males exhibited a strong decrease of male-male courtship, in association with a delay in courtship initiation.
Our study presents evidence that Est-6 plays a role in the physiological and behavioral dynamics of sex pheromone response in Drosophila males and supports a role of Est-6 as an odorant-degrading enzyme (ODE) in male antennae. Our results also expand the role of Est-6 in Drosophila biology, from reproduction to olfaction, and highlight the role of ODEs in insect olfaction.
PMCID: PMC3414785  PMID: 22715942
carboxylesterase; esterase 6; olfaction; pheromone; signal termination
6.  miR-124 controls male reproductive success in Drosophila 
eLife  2013;2:e00640.
Many aspects of social behavior are controlled by sex-specific pheromones. Gender-appropriate production of the sexually dimorphic transcription factors doublesex and fruitless controls sexual differentiation and sexual behavior. miR-124 mutant males exhibited increased male–male courtship and reduced reproductive success with females. Females showed a strong preference for wild-type males over miR-124 mutant males when given a choice of mates. These effects were traced to aberrant pheromone production. We identified the sex-specific splicing factor transformer as a functionally significant target of miR-124 in this context, suggesting a role for miR-124 in the control of male sexual differentiation and behavior, by limiting inappropriate expression of the female form of transformer. miR-124 is required to ensure fidelity of gender-appropriate pheromone production in males. Use of a microRNA provides a secondary means of controlling the cascade of sex-specific splicing events that controls sexual differentiation in Drosophila.
eLife digest
Like many animals, the fruit fly Drosophila uses pheromones to influence sexual behaviour, with males and females producing different versions of these chemicals. One of the pheromones produced by male flies, for example, is a chemical called 11-cis-vaccenyl-acetate (cVA), which is an aphrodisiac for female flies and an anti-aphrodisiac for males.
The production of the correct pheromones in each sex is genetically controlled using a process called splicing that allows a single gene to be expressed as two or more different proteins. A variety of proteins called splicing factors ensures that splicing results in the production of the correct pheromones for each sex. Sometimes, however, the process by which sex genes are expressed as proteins can be ‘leaky’, which results in the wrong proteins being produced for one or both sexes.
Small RNA molecules called microRNAs act in some genetic pathways to limit the leaky expression of genes, and a microRNA called miR-124 carries out this function in the developing brain Drosophila. Now, Weng et al. show that miR-124 also helps to regulate sex-specific splicing and thereby to control pheromone production and sexual behaviour.
Mutant male flies lacking miR-124 were less successful than wild-type males at mating with female flies, and were almost always rejected if a female fly was given a choice between a mutant male and a wild-type male. Moreover, both wild-type and mutant male flies were more likely to initiate courtship behaviour towards another male if it lacked miR-124 than if it did not.
The mutant male flies produced less cVA than wild-type males, but more of other pheromones called pentacosenes, which is consistent with the observed behaviour because cVA attracts females and repels males, whereas pentacosenes act as aphrodisiacs for male flies in large amounts. Weng et al. showed that these changes in the production of pheromones were caused by an increased expression of the female version of a splicing factor called transformer in the mutant males, but further work is needed to understand this process in detail.
PMCID: PMC3679528  PMID: 23795292
microRNA; pheromome; behaviour; genetics; selection; evolution; D. melanogaster
7.  Drosophila Cuticular Hydrocarbons Revisited: Mating Status Alters Cuticular Profiles 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9607.
Most living organisms use pheromones for inter-individual communication. In Drosophila melanogaster flies, several pheromones perceived either by contact/at a short distance (cuticular hydrocarbons, CHs), or at a longer distance (cis-vaccenyl acetate, cVA), affect courtship and mating behaviours. However, it has not previously been possible to precisely identify all potential pheromonal compounds and simultaneously monitor their variation on a time scale. To overcome this limitation, we combined Solid Phase Micro-Extraction with gas-chromatography coupled with mass-spectrometry. This allowed us (i) to identify 59 cuticular compounds, including 17 new CHs; (ii) to precisely quantify the amount of each compound that could be detected by another fly, and (iii) to measure the variation of these substances as a function of aging and mating. Sex-specific variation appeared with age, while mating affected cuticular compounds in both sexes with three possible patterns: variation was (i) reciprocal in the two sexes, suggesting a passive mechanical transfer during mating, (ii) parallel in both sexes, such as for cVA which strikingly appeared during mating, or (iii) unilateral, presumably as a result of sexual interaction. We provide a complete reassessment of all Drosophila CHs and suggest that the chemical conversation between male and female flies is far more complex than is generally accepted. We conclude that focusing on individual compounds will not provide a satisfactory understanding of the evolution and function of chemical communication in Drosophila.
PMCID: PMC2834761  PMID: 20231905
8.  Requirement for Drosophila SNMP1 for Rapid Activation and Termination of Pheromone-Induced Activity 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(9):e1004600.
Pheromones are used for conspecific communication by many animals. In Drosophila, the volatile male-specific pheromone 11-cis vaccenyl acetate (cVA) supplies an important signal for gender recognition. Sensing of cVA by the olfactory system depends on multiple components, including an olfactory receptor (OR67d), the co-receptor ORCO, and an odorant binding protein (LUSH). In addition, a CD36 related protein, sensory neuron membrane protein 1 (SNMP1) is also involved in cVA detection. Loss of SNMP1 has been reported to eliminate cVA responsiveness, and to greatly increase spontaneous activity of OR67d-expressing olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs). Here, we found the snmp11 mutation did not abolish cVA responsiveness or cause high spontaneous activity. The cVA responses in snmp1 mutants displayed a delayed onset, and took longer to reach peak activity than wild-type. Most strikingly, loss of SNMP1 caused a dramatic delay in signal termination. The profound impairment in signal inactivation accounted for the previously reported “spontaneous activity,” which represented continuous activation following transient exposure to environmental cVA. We introduced the silk moth receptor (BmOR1) in OR67d ORNs of snmp11 flies and found that the ORNs showed slow activation and deactivation kinetics in response to the BmOR1 ligand (bombykol). We expressed the bombykol receptor complex in Xenopus oocytes in the presence or absence of the silk moth SNMP1 (BmSNMP) and found that addition of BmSNMP accelerated receptor activation and deactivation. Our results thus clarify SNMP1 as an important player required for the rapid kinetics of the pheromone response in insects.
Author Summary
Pheromones are chemicals produced and released by animals for social communication with other members of their species. For example, male fruit flies produce a volatile pheromone that is sensed by both males and females, and which functions in gender recognition. This volatile male pheromone, called 11-cis vaccenyl acetate, is detected by olfactory neurons housed in hair-like appendages on the insect antenna. To effectively sense the pheromone, especially during navigation, the olfactory neurons must respond rapidly, and then quickly inactivate after the stimulation ceases. We found that a CD36-related protein referred to as sensory neuron membrane protein 1 (SNMP1) was required by olfactory neurons for the rapid on and off responses to 11-cis vaccenyl acetate. Loss of SNMP1 reduced the initial sensitivity to the pheromone, and then caused a strikingly slower termination of the response after removal of the pheromone. Our findings demonstrate that SNMP1 is a critical player that allows olfactory neurons to achieve sensitive and rapid on and off responses to a pheromone that is critical for social interactions in insects.
PMCID: PMC4177743  PMID: 25255106
9.  Drosophila Pheromone-Sensing Neurons Expressing the ppk25 Ion Channel Subunit Stimulate Male Courtship and Female Receptivity 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(3):e1004238.
As in many species, gustatory pheromones regulate the mating behavior of Drosophila. Recently, several ppk genes, encoding ion channel subunits of the DEG/ENaC family, have been implicated in this process, leading to the identification of gustatory neurons that detect specific pheromones. In a subset of taste hairs on the legs of Drosophila, there are two ppk23-expressing, pheromone-sensing neurons with complementary response profiles; one neuron detects female pheromones that stimulate male courtship, the other detects male pheromones that inhibit male-male courtship. In contrast to ppk23, ppk25, is only expressed in a single gustatory neuron per taste hair, and males with impaired ppk25 function court females at reduced rates but do not display abnormal courtship of other males. These findings raised the possibility that ppk25 expression defines a subset of pheromone-sensing neurons. Here we show that ppk25 is expressed and functions in neurons that detect female-specific pheromones and mediates their stimulatory effect on male courtship. Furthermore, the role of ppk25 and ppk25-expressing neurons is not restricted to responses to female-specific pheromones. ppk25 is also required in the same subset of neurons for stimulation of male courtship by young males, males of the Tai2 strain, and by synthetic 7-pentacosene (7-P), a hydrocarbon normally found at low levels in both males and females. Finally, we unexpectedly find that, in females, ppk25 and ppk25-expressing cells regulate receptivity to mating. In the absence of the third antennal segment, which has both olfactory and auditory functions, mutations in ppk25 or silencing of ppk25-expressing neurons block female receptivity to males. Together these results indicate that ppk25 identifies a functionally specialized subset of pheromone-sensing neurons. While ppk25 neurons are required for the responses to multiple pheromones, in both males and females these neurons are specifically involved in stimulating courtship and mating.
Author Summary
Drosophila mating behaviors serve as an attractive model to understand how external sensory cues are detected and used to generate appropriate behavioral responses. Pheromones present on the cuticle of Drosophila have important roles in stimulating male courtship toward females and inhibiting male courtship directed at other males. Recently, stimulatory pheromones emitted by females and inhibitory pheromones emitted by males have been shown to stimulate distinct subsets of gustatory neurons on the legs. We have previously shown that a DEG/ENaC ion channel subunit, ppk25, is involved in male courtship toward females but not in inhibition of male-male courtship. Here we show that ppk25 is specifically expressed and functions in a subset of gustatory neurons that mediate physiological and behavioral responses to female-specific stimulatory pheromones. Furthermore, ppk25 is also required for the function of those neurons to activate male courtship in response to other pheromones that are not female-specific. In addition to their roles in males, we find that ppk25, and the related DEG/ENaC subunits ppk23 and ppk29, also stimulate female mating behavior. In conclusion, these results show that, in both sexes, ppk25 functions in a group of neurons with a specialized role in stimulating mating behaviors.
PMCID: PMC3967927  PMID: 24675786
10.  Volatile Drosophila Cuticular Pheromones Are Affected by Social but Not Sexual Experience 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40396.
Recognition of conspecifics and mates is based on a variety of sensory cues that are specific to the species, sex and social status of each individual. The courtship and mating activity of Drosophila melanogaster flies is thought to depend on the olfactory perception of a male-specific volatile pheromone, cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), and the gustatory perception of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs), some of which are sexually dimorphic. Using two complementary sampling methods (headspace Solid Phase Micro-Extraction [SPME] and solvent extraction) coupled with GC-MS analysis, we measured the dispersion of pheromonal CHs in the air and on the substrate around the fly. We also followed the variations in CHs that were induced by social and sexual interactions. We found that all CHs present on the fly body were deposited as a thin layer on the substrate, whereas only a few of these molecules were also detected in the air. Moreover, social experience during early adult development and in mature flies strongly affected male volatile CHs but not cVA, whereas sexual interaction only had a moderate influence on dispersed CHs. Our study suggests that, in addition to their role as contact cues, CHs can influence fly behavior at a distance and that volatile, deposited and body pheromonal CHs participate in a three-step recognition of the chemical identity and social status of insects.
PMCID: PMC3394786  PMID: 22808151
11.  Receptors and neurons for fly odors in Drosophila 
Current biology : CB  2007;17(7):606-612.
Remarkably little is known about the molecular and cellular basis of mate recognition in Drosophila [1]. We systematically examine one of the three major types of sensilla that house olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) on the Drosophila antenna, the trichoid sensilla, by electrophysiological analysis. We find that none respond strongly to food odors, but all respond to fly odors. Two subtypes of trichoid sensilla contain ORNs that respond to cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), an anti-aphrodisiac pheromone present in males and transferred to females during mating [2–4]. All trichoid sensilla yield responses to a male extract; a subset yield responses to a virgin female extract as well. Thus males can be distinguished from virgin females by the activity they elicit among the trichoid ORN population. We then systematically test all members of the Odor receptor (Or) gene family [5–7] that are expressed in trichoid sensilla [8], using an in vivo expression system [9]. Four receptors respond to fly odors in this system: two respond to extracts of both males and virgin females, and two respond to cVA. We propose a model for how these receptors might be used by a male to distinguish suitable from unsuitable mating partners through a simple logic.
PMCID: PMC1876700  PMID: 17363256
12.  Hierarchical chemosensory regulation of male-male social interactions in Drosophila 
Nature neuroscience  2011;14(6):757-762.
Pheromones regulate male social behaviors in Drosophila, but the identities and behavioral role(s) of these chemosensory signals, and how they interact, are incompletely understood. Here we show that (Z)-7-tricosene (7-T), a male-enriched cuticular hydrocarbon (CH) previously shown to inhibit male-male courtship, is also essential for normal levels of aggression. The opposite influences of 7-T on aggression and courtship are independent, but both require the gustatory receptor Gr32a. Surprisingly, sensitivity to 7-T is required for the aggression-promoting effect of 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), an olfactory pheromone, but 7-T sensitivity is independent of cVA. 7-T and cVA therefore regulate aggression in a hierarchical manner. Furthermore, the increased courtship caused by depletion of male CHs is suppressed by a mutation in the olfactory receptor Or47b. Thus, male social behaviors are controlled by gustatory pheromones that promote and suppress aggression and courtship, respectively, and whose influences are dominant to olfactory pheromones that enhance these behaviors.
PMCID: PMC3102769  PMID: 21516101
13.  Molecular Genetic Analysis of Sexual Rejection: Roles of Octopamine and Its Receptor OAMB in Drosophila Courtship Conditioning 
After Drosophila males are rejected by mated females, their subsequent courtship is inhibited even when encountering virgin females. Molecular mechanisms underlying courtship conditioning in the CNS are unclear. In this study, we find that tyramine β hydroxylase (TβH) mutant males unable to synthesize octopamine (OA) showed impaired courtship conditioning, which could be rescued by transgenic TβH expression in the CNS. Inactivation of octopaminergic neurons mimicked the TβH mutant phenotype. Transient activation of octopaminergic neurons in males not only decreased their courtship of virgin females, but also produced courtship conditioning. Single cell analysis revealed projection of octopaminergic neurons to the mushroom bodies. Deletion of the OAMB gene encoding an OA receptor expressed in the mushroom bodies disrupted courtship conditioning. Inactivation of neurons expressing OAMB also eliminated courtship conditioning. OAMB neurons responded robustly to male-specific pheromone cis-vaccenyl acetate in a dose-dependent manner. Our results indicate that OA plays an important role in courtship conditioning through its OAMB receptor expressed in a specific neuronal subset of the mushroom bodies.
PMCID: PMC3670963  PMID: 23055498
14.  Pheromonal and Behavioral Cues Trigger Male-to-Female Aggression in Drosophila 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(11):e1000541.
By genetically manipulating both pheromonal profiles and behavioral patterns, we find that Drosophila males showed a complete reversal in their patterns of aggression towards other males and females
Appropriate displays of aggression rely on the ability to recognize potential competitors. As in most species, Drosophila males fight with other males and do not attack females. In insects, sex recognition is strongly dependent on chemosensory communication, mediated by cuticular hydrocarbons acting as pheromones. While the roles of chemical and other sensory cues in stimulating male to female courtship have been well characterized in Drosophila, the signals that elicit aggression remain unclear. Here we show that when female pheromones or behavior are masculinized, males recognize females as competitors and switch from courtship to aggression. To masculinize female pheromones, a transgene carrying dsRNA for the sex determination factor transformer (traIR) was targeted to the pheromone producing cells, the oenocytes. Shortly after copulation males attacked these females, indicating that pheromonal cues can override other sensory cues. Surprisingly, masculinization of female behavior by targeting traIR to the nervous system in an otherwise normal female also was sufficient to trigger male aggression. Simultaneous masculinization of both pheromones and behavior induced a complete switch in the normal male response to a female. Control males now fought rather than copulated with these females. In a reciprocal experiment, feminization of the oenocytes and nervous system in males by expression of transformer (traF) elicited high levels of courtship and little or no aggression from control males. Finally, when confronted with flies devoid of pheromones, control males attacked male but not female opponents, suggesting that aggression is not a default behavior in the absence of pheromonal cues. Thus, our results show that masculinization of either pheromones or behavior in females is sufficient to trigger male-to-female aggression. Moreover, by manipulating both the pheromonal profile and the fighting patterns displayed by the opponent, male behavioral responses towards males and females can be completely reversed. Therefore, both pheromonal and behavioral cues are used by Drosophila males in recognizing a conspecific as a competitor.
Author Summary
As in other species, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster uses chemical signals in the form of pheromones to recognize the species and sex of another individual. Males typically fight with other males and do not attack females. While the roles of pheromonal and other sensory cues in stimulating courtship towards females have been extensively studied, the signals that elicit aggression towards other males remain unclear. In this work, we use genetic tools to show that masculinization of female pheromones is sufficient to trigger aggression from wild type males towards females. Surprisingly, males also attacked females that displayed male patterns of aggression, even if they show normal female pheromonal profiles, indicating that pheromones are not the only cues important for identifying another animal as an opponent. By simultaneously manipulating pheromones and behavioral patterns of opponents, we can completely switch the behavioral response of males towards females and males. These results demonstrate that not only pheromonal but also behavioral cues can serve as triggers of aggression, underlining the importance of behavioral feedback in the manifestation of social behaviors.
PMCID: PMC2990703  PMID: 21124886
15.  Identification of an aggression-promoting pheromone and its receptor neurons in Drosophila 
Nature  2009;463(7278):227-231.
Aggression is regulated by pheromones in many animal species1,2,3. However in no system have aggression pheromones, their cognate receptors and corresponding sensory neurons been identified. Here we show that 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), a male-specific volatile pheromone, robustly promotes male-male aggression in the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster. The aggression-promoting effect of synthetic cVA requires olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) expressing the receptor Or67d4,5,6, as well as the receptor itself. Activation of Or67d-expressing OSNs, either by genetic manipulation of their excitability or by exposure to male pheromones in the absence of other classes of OSNs, is sufficient to promote aggression. High densities of male flies can promote aggression through release of volatile cVA. In turn, cVA-promoted aggression can promote male fly dispersal from a food resource, in a manner dependent upon Or67d-expressing OSNs. These data suggest that cVA may mediate negative feedback control of male population density, through its effect on aggression. Identification of a pheromone-OSN pair controlling aggression in a genetic organism opens the way to unraveling the neurobiology of this evolutionarily conserved behavior.
PMCID: PMC2999963  PMID: 19966787
16.  Courtship Initiation Is Stimulated by Acoustic Signals in Drosophila melanogaster 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(9):e3246.
Finding a mating partner is a critical task for many organisms. It is in the interest of males to employ multiple sensory modalities to search for females. In Drosophila melanogaster, vision is thought to be the most important courtship stimulating cue at long distance, while chemosensory cues are used at relatively short distance. In this report, we show that when visual cues are not available, sounds produced by the female allow the male to detect her presence in a large arena. When the target female was artificially immobilized, the male spent a prolonged time searching before starting courtship. This delay in courtship initiation was completely rescued by playing either white noise or recorded fly movement sounds to the male, indicating that the acoustic and/or seismic stimulus produced by movement stimulates courtship initiation, most likely by increasing the general arousal state of the male. Mutant males expressing tetanus toxin (TNT) under the control of Gr68a-GAL4 had a defect in finding active females and a delay in courtship initiation in a large arena, but not in a small arena. Gr68a-GAL4 was found to be expressed pleiotropically not only in putative gustatory pheromone receptor neurons but also in mechanosensory neurons, suggesting that Gr68a-positive mechanosensory neurons, not gustatory neurons, provide motion detection necessary for courtship initiation. TNT/Gr68a males were capable of discriminating the copulation status and age of target females in courtship conditioning, indicating that female discrimination and formation of olfactory courtship memory are independent of the Gr68a-expressing neurons that subserve gustation and mechanosensation. This study suggests for the first time that mechanical signals generated by a female fly have a prominent effect on males' courtship in the dark and leads the way to studying how multimodal sensory information and arousal are integrated in behavioral decision making.
PMCID: PMC2531232  PMID: 18802468
17.  Multi-modal Analysis of Courtship Behaviour in the Old World Leishmaniasis Vector Phlebotomus argentipes 
The sand fly Phlebotomus argentipes is arguably the most important vector of leishmaniasis worldwide. As there is no vaccine against the parasites that cause leishmaniasis, disease prevention focuses on control of the insect vector. Understanding reproductive behaviour will be essential to controlling populations of P. argentipes, and developing new strategies for reducing leishmaniasis transmission. Through statistical analysis of male-female interactions, this study provides a detailed description of P. argentipes courtship, and behaviours critical to mating success are highlighted. The potential for a role of cuticular hydrocarbons in P. argentipes courtship is also investigated, by comparing chemicals extracted from the surface of male and female flies.
Principal Findings
P. argentipes courtship shared many similarities with that of both Phlebotomus papatasi and the New World leishmaniasis vector Lutzomyia longipalpis. Male wing-flapping while approaching the female during courtship predicted mating success, and touching between males and females was a common and frequent occurrence. Both sexes were able to reject a potential partner. Significant differences were found in the profile of chemicals extracted from the surface of males and females. Results of GC analysis indicate that female extracts contained a number of peaks with relatively short retention times not present in males. Extracts from males had higher peaks for chemicals with relatively long retention times.
The importance of male approach flapping suggests that production of audio signals through wing beating, or dispersal of sex pheromones, are important to mating in this species. Frequent touching as a means of communication, and the differences in the chemical profiles extracted from males and females, may also indicate a role for cuticular hydrocarbons in P. argentipes courtship. Comparing characteristics of successful and unsuccessful mates could aid in identifying the modality of signals involved in P. argentipes courtship, and their potential for use in developing new strategies for vector control.
Author Summary
The sand fly Phlebotomus argentipes transmits Leishmania parasites through female blood-feeding. These parasites cause leishmaniasis, a potentially fatal disease for which there is no vaccine. Understanding how insect vectors behave can aid in developing strategies to reduce disease transmission. Here, we investigate courtship behaviour in P. argentipes. Courtship is critical to an organism's life cycle, as it is essential for mating and reproduction. We show that courtship in this species begins with the male wing-flapping while approaching the female. This behaviour may suggest production of audio signals, or dispersal of chemicals from the male, which the female finds attractive. There then follows a period of touching between males and females prior to copulation. This behaviour may function in the transmission and reception of chemical signals, present on the insect surface. Many insects use these kinds of chemicals in courtship, and here we show differences in the chemicals extracted from the cuticle of male and female P. argentipes. Both males and females were found to be able to reject a potential mate. Understanding why some P. argentipes are more attractive than others could help identify the signals essential to reproduction, and their potential for use in vector control.
PMCID: PMC4256473  PMID: 25474027
18.  Courtship Behavior of the Castniid Palm Borer, Paysandisia archon: Potential Roles of Male Scents and Visual Cues in a Day-Flying Moth 
The castniid palm borer, Paysandisia archon (Burmeister) (Lepidoptera: Castniidae), is a South American moth that in the last ten years has become a major pest of palm trees in the Mediterranean region. Current knowledge on the reproductive behavior of this diurnal moth suggests the importance of both visual and chemical cues, in particular the production of a male pheromone emitted during a specific scratching behavior. Male-produced scents have diverse functions in lepidopteran sexual communication but generally act during courtship behavior, leading to complex, stereotyped courtship sequences. As a first step to understand the cues involved in mating behavior and the role of male scents in male mating success, we quantified sequences of P. archon courtship behavior using video filming. To distinguish behaviors leading to an approach of both partners from those involved in short-range courtship, sequences were divided into “approach” and “interaction” phases. Quantifications and analyses were first made by NPMANOVA analysis of behavioral event frequencies, followed by flowchart construction using transition matrix probabilities. In 90% of the observations, courting activities led to copulation, but successful sequences were highly variable and could be divided into two categories, “rapid” and “prolonged” courtship sequences. In both categories, approaches were performed by males but depended strongly on female movements, especially on female flights. The significant behavioral differences were observed after the first contact (i.e., interaction phase) where, in rapid sequences, males generally acceded to copulation without displaying scratching behavior. Conversely, in prolonged sequences, the female expressed evading behavior and male scratching frequency increased. The possible roles of male scent emission in female mate choice and the importance of visual cues in the mating behavior of P. archon are discussed.
PMCID: PMC4207509  PMID: 25373199
behavioral sequences; Castniidae; mating; male pheromones; mate choice
19.  Genetic and neural mechanisms that inhibit Drosophila from mating with other species 
Cell  2013;154(1):10.1016/j.cell.2013.06.008.
Genetically hard-wired neural mechanisms must enforce behavioral reproductive isolation because interspecies courtship is rare even in sexually naïve animals of most species. We find that the chemoreceptor Gr32a inhibits male D. melanogaster from courting diverse fruit fly species. Gr32a recognizes non-volatile aversive cues present on these reproductively dead-end targets, and activity of Gr32a neurons is necessary and sufficient to inhibit interspecies courtship. Male-specific Fruitless (FruM), a master regulator of courtship, also inhibits interspecies courtship. Gr32a and FruM are not co-expressed, but FruM neurons contact Gr32a neurons, suggesting that these genes influence a shared neural circuit that inhibits inter-species courtship. Gr32a and FruM also suppress within-species intermale courtship, but we show that distinct mechanisms preclude sexual displays toward conspecific males and other species. Although this chemosensory pathway does not inhibit interspecies mating in D. melanogaster females, similar mechanisms appear to inhibit this behavior in many other male drosophilids.
PMCID: PMC3823234  PMID: 23810192
20.  Sexual selection and mating advantages in the giant sperm species, Drosophila bifurca 
Mate choice may be exercised by either sex; however, females are generally choosier than males because they invest more in their gametes. Female choice is often based on direct benefits, such as better reproductive output, whereas male choice appears to be based on differences in female fecundity. However, when gamete production is limited, sexual selection theories predict that mate choice will be decisive for reproductive success in both sexes. Here, we investigate how mating advantage is achieved in Drosophila bifurca, a giant sperm species in which both sexes produce only a few gametes. Our initial expectations were as follows: (1) females would discriminate against sperm-depleted males to avoid fertility cost; and (2) males would discriminate against inseminated females to reduce sperm competition and increase the assurance of paternity of individual gametes. Differences in courtship behaviors were analyzed with regard to the sexual maturity, which is reached after 22 days in males at 21°C, and the reproductive history of both sexes (inseminated versus virgin for females, and sperm-depleted versus sperm-loaded for males). Our results show that: (1) sexual immaturity precludes mating in both sexes; (2) virgin females do not discriminate between sperm-loaded and sperm-depleted males, and (3) males mate preferentially with virgin females, because inseminated females fend off the male, which tended to bring male courtship to an end. Female remating was limited, but increased significantly when the first male was sperm-depleted. Contrary to our initial expectations, these findings suggest that male sperm depletion does not affect female mating preference, whereas the success of male courtship is driven by female behavior. The possibility that female remating was only promoted in response to low sperm transfer is discussed in relation to the gametic system of this species.
PMCID: PMC1283891  PMID: 16299600
copulation duration; frequency of remating; reproductive behavior; sexual maturity; sperm-limited species
21.  Integrated action of pheromone signals in promoting courtship behavior in male mice 
eLife  2014;3:e03025.
The mammalian vomeronasal organ encodes pheromone information about gender, reproductive status, genetic background and individual differences. It remains unknown how pheromone information interacts to trigger innate behaviors. In this study, we identify vomeronasal receptors responsible for detecting female pheromones. A sub-group of V1re clade members recognizes gender-identifying cues in female urine. Multiple members of the V1rj clade are cognate receptors for urinary estrus signals, as well as for sulfated estrogen (SE) compounds. In both cases, the same cue activates multiple homologous receptors, suggesting redundancy in encoding female pheromone cues. Neither gender-specific cues nor SEs alone are sufficient to promote courtship behavior in male mice, whereas robust courtship behavior can be induced when the two cues are applied together. Thus, integrated action of different female cues is required in pheromone-triggered mating behavior. These results suggest a gating mechanism in the vomeronasal circuit in promoting specific innate behavior.
eLife digest
Pheromones are chemicals that are given off by living things and they lead to a range of social responses in others of the same species. These chemical signals, for example, can let an animal know when a suitable mate is near and trigger the release of hormones that encourage the animal to mate.
In mammals, an organ found between the roof of the mouth and the nose detects pheromones. This organ contains more than 300 different receptors for these chemicals. However, only a few of these receptors have been matched with the pheromones that they detect. One example is a chemical released by male mice that interacts with a specific nasal receptor and causes a female mouse to arch her back in a way that signals she is ready to mate.
One reason that more pheromone-receptor pairs are not known is that pheromones are released in very small quantities, which makes them hard to detect. In an effort to identify more pairs, Haga-Yamanaka et al. took tissue slices from the organ that detects pheromones in mice and then looked for cells that responded to the urine of female mice. Two previously unknown pheromone-receptor pairs were found. One helps male mice detect when a female is present, while the other lets him know if she is ready to mate. Together these two chemicals alert a male mouse to a potential mate and cause him to mount her in order to mate. However, neither chemical is able to trigger this male courtship behavior on its own.
The techniques developed by Haga-Yamanaka et al. may, in the future, help identify more pheromone-receptor pairs. The next challenge will be to identify the pathways of nerve cells that integrate the information about pheromones and trigger the courtship behaviors.
PMCID: PMC4107909  PMID: 25073926
olfactory; vomeronasal; pheromone; innate behavior; GCaMP; imaging; mouse
22.  Sexual conflict and anti-aphrodisiac titre in a polyandrous butterfly: male ejaculate tailoring and absence of female control. 
Males of the green-veined butterfly Pieris napi synthesize and transfer the volatile methyl salicylate (MeS) to females at mating, a substance that is emitted by non-virgin females when courted by males, curtailing courtship and decreasing the likelihood of female re-mating. The volatile is released when females display the 'mate-refusal' posture with spread wings and elevated abdomen, when courted by conspecific males. Here, we assess how the amount of MeS released by courted females changes over time since mating, and whether it is influenced by the frequency with which females display the mate-refusal posture. We also assess whether males tailor the anti-aphrodisiac content of ejaculates with respect to the expected degree of sperm competition, by comparing how males allocate MeS proportionately to first and second ejaculates in relation to ejaculate mass. The results show that females housed for 5 days in individual cages where they were able to fly and oviposit normally, released similar amounts of MeS. However, females housed together for the same period of time, causing them to frequently display the mate-refusal posture, released significantly lower levels of MeS than the individually housed females. This indicates that female display of the mate-refusal posture depletes their anti-aphrodisiac stores, and suggests that females are unable to voluntarily control their release of the anti-aphrodisiac. A comparison of relative proportion of MeS transferred by males in their first and second ejaculates showed that proportionately more MeS was allocated to the first ejaculate, in accordance with the idea that these are tailored to delay female re-mating.
PMCID: PMC1691801  PMID: 15315890
23.  Contact Chemoreceptors Mediate Male-Male Repulsion and Male-Female Attraction during Drosophila Courtship 
Cell  2012;149(5):1140-1151.
The elaborate courtship ritual of Drosophila males is dictated by neural circuitry established by the transcription factor Fruitless and triggered by sex-specific sensory cues. Deciphering the role of different stimuli in driving courtship behavior has been limited by the inability to selectively target appropriate sensory classes. Here, we identify two ion channel genes belonging to the degenerin/epithelial sodium channel family, ppk23 and ppk29, which are expressed in fruitless-positive neurons on the legs and are essential for courtship. Gene loss-of-function, cell inactivation and cell activation experiments demonstrate that these genes and neurons are necessary and sufficient to inhibit courtship toward males and promote courtship toward females. Moreover, these cells respond to cuticular hydrocarbons, with different cells selectively responding to male or female pheromones. These studies identify a large population of pheromone-sensing neurons and demonstrate the essential role of contact chemosensation in the early courtship steps of mate selection and courtship initiation.
PMCID: PMC3365544  PMID: 22632976
24.  Multimodal Sensory Integration of Courtship Stimulating Cues in Drosophila melanogaster 
Mechanisms for identifying appropriate mating partners are required for any species to survive. In many types of animals, males employ multiple sensory modalities to initially search for females and to subsequently determine if they are fit and/or receptive. In this paper we will detail the multiple types of sensory information that are used to initiate and drive courtship in Drosophila melanogaster and discuss the importance of context in the interpretation of chemosensory cues. We find that food-related olfactory cues increase the salience of the aversive pheromone cis-vaccenyl acetate.
PMCID: PMC2795581  PMID: 19686165
Drosophila; olfaction; gustation; hearing; cis-vaccenyl acetate; pheromone
25.  Pheromone Diversification and Age-Dependent Behavioural Plasticity Decrease Interspecific Mating Costs in Nasonia 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89214.
Interspecific mating can cause severe fitness costs due to the fact that hybrids are often non-viable or less fit. Thus, theory predicts the selection of traits that lessen reproductive interactions between closely related sympatric species. Males of the parasitic wasp Nasonia vitripennis differ from all other Nasonia species by an additional sex pheromone component, but the ecological selective forces underlying this pheromone diversification are unknown. Here we present data from lab experiments suggesting that costly interspecific sexual interactions with the sympatric species N. giraulti might have been responsible for the pheromone evolution and some courtship-related behavioural adaptations in N. vitripennis. Most N. giraulti females are inseminated already within the host, but N. giraulti males still invest in costly sex pheromones after emergence. Furthermore, they do not discriminate between N. vitripennis females and conspecifics during courtship. Therefore, N. vitripennis females, most of which emerge as virgins, face the risk of mating with N. giraulti resulting in costly all-male broods due to Wolbachia-induced cytoplasmic incompatibility. As a counter adaptation, young N. vitripennis females discriminate against N. giraulti males using the more complex conspecific sex pheromone and reject most of them during courtship. With increasing age, however, N. vitripennis females become less choosy, but often compensate mating errors by re-mating with a conspecific. By doing so, they can principally avoid suboptimal offspring sex ratios, but a microcosm experiment suggests that under more natural conditions N. vitripennis females cannot completely avoid fitness costs due to heterospecific mating. Our study provides support for the hypothesis that communication interference of closely related sympatric species using similar sexual signals can generate selective pressures that lead to their divergence.
PMCID: PMC3925242  PMID: 24551238

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