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.
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.
Pheromonal communication is crucial with regard to mate choice in many animals including insects. Drosophila melanogaster flies produce a pheromonal bouquet with many cuticular hydrocarbons some of which diverge between the sexes and differently affect male courtship behavior. Cuticular pheromones have a relatively high weight and are thought to be — mostly but not only — detected by gustatory contact. However, the response of the peripheral and central gustatory systems to these substances remains poorly explored. We measured the effect induced by pheromonal cuticular mixtures on (i) the electrophysiological response of peripheral gustatory receptor neurons, (ii) the calcium variation in brain centers receiving these gustatory inputs and (iii) the behavioral reaction induced in control males and in mutant desat1 males, which show abnormal pheromone production and perception. While male and female pheromones induced inhibitory-like effects on taste receptor neurons, the contact of male pheromones on male fore-tarsi elicits a long-lasting response of higher intensity in the dedicated gustatory brain center. We found that the behavior of control males was more strongly inhibited by male pheromones than by female pheromones, but this difference disappeared in anosmic males. Mutant desat1 males showed an increased sensitivity of their peripheral gustatory neurons to contact pheromones and a behavioral incapacity to discriminate sex pheromones. Together our data indicate that cuticular hydrocarbons induce long-lasting inhibitory effects on the relevant taste pathway which may interact with the olfactory pathway to modulate pheromonal perception.
Sexual behavior requires animals to distinguish between the sexes and to respond appropriately to each of them. In Drosophila melanogaster, as in many insects, cuticular hydrocarbons are thought to be involved in sex recognition and in mating behavior, but there is no direct neuronal evidence of their pheromonal effect. Using behavioral and electrophysiological measures of responses to natural and synthetic compounds, we show that Z-7-tricosene, a Drosophila male cuticular hydrocarbon, acts as a sex pheromone and inhibits male-male courtship. These data provide the first direct demonstration that an insect cuticular hydrocarbon is detected as a sex pheromone. Intriguingly, we show that a particular type of gustatory neurons of the labial palps respond both to Z-7-tricosene and to bitter stimuli. Cross-adaptation between Z-7-tricosene and bitter stimuli further indicates that these two very different substances are processed by the same neural pathways. Furthermore, the two substances induced similar behavioral responses both in courtship and feeding tests. We conclude that the inhibitory pheromone tastes bitter to the fly.
Reproductive behavior in Drosophila has both stereotyped and plastic components that are driven by age- and sex-specific chemical cues. Males who unsuccessfully court virgin females subsequently avoid females that are of the same age as the trainer. In contrast, males trained with mature mated females associate volatile appetitive and aversive pheromonal cues and learn to suppress courtship of all females. Here we show that the volatile aversive pheromone that leads to generalized learning with mated females is (Z)-11-octadecenyl acetate (cis-vaccenyl acetate, cVA). cVA is a major component of the male cuticular hydrocarbon profile, but it is not found on virgin females. During copulation, cVA is transferred to the female in ejaculate along with sperm and peptides that decrease her sexual receptivity. When males sense cVA (either synthetic or from mated female or male extracts) in the context of female pheromone, they develop a generalized suppression of courtship. The effects of cVA on initial courtship of virgin females can be blocked by expression of tetanus toxin in Or65a, but not Or67d neurons, demonstrating that the aversive effects of this pheromone are mediated by a specific class of olfactory neuron. These findings suggest that transfer of cVA to females during mating may be part of the male’s strategy to suppress reproduction by competing males.
Learning and memory; olfaction; Drosophila; pheromones; cis-vaccenyl acetate
Rapid evolution of gene expression patterns responsible for pheromone production in 24 species of Drosophila was mapped to simple mutations within the regulatory domain of the desatF gene.
A wide range of organisms use sex pheromones to communicate with each other and to identify appropriate mating partners. While the evolution of chemical communication has been suggested to cause sexual isolation and speciation, the mechanisms that govern evolutionary transitions in sex pheromone production are poorly understood. Here, we decipher the molecular mechanisms underlying the rapid evolution in the expression of a gene involved in sex pheromone production in Drosophilid flies. Long-chain cuticular hydrocarbons (e.g., dienes) are produced female-specifically, notably via the activity of the desaturase DESAT-F, and are potent pheromones for male courtship behavior in Drosophila melanogaster. We show that across the genus Drosophila, the expression of this enzyme is correlated with long-chain diene production and has undergone an extraordinary number of evolutionary transitions, including six independent gene inactivations, three losses of expression without gene loss, and two transitions in sex-specificity. Furthermore, we show that evolutionary transitions from monomorphism to dimorphism (and its reversion) in desatF expression involved the gain (and the inactivation) of a binding-site for the sex-determination transcription factor, DOUBLESEX. In addition, we documented a surprising example of the gain of particular cis-regulatory motifs of the desatF locus via a set of small deletions. Together, our results suggest that frequent changes in the expression of pheromone-producing enzymes underlie evolutionary transitions in chemical communication, and reflect changing regimes of sexual selection, which may have contributed to speciation among Drosophila.
Mate selection is a complex process involving communication between potential partners on many levels, such as visual, aural, and olfactory cues. Many animals use chemical signals in the form of pheromones to communicate and correctly recognize individuals of the appropriate species and sex during reproduction. Evolutionary changes in the production of these chemicals have been suggested to contribute to speciation. Yet, the molecular mechanisms governing these transitions have seldom been addressed. Here, we show that expression of the gene desatF, which encodes an enzyme involved in the production of the Drosophila pheromones known as dienes, is highly variable and rapidly evolving across Drosophila species. Changes in desatF gene expression correlate with changes in sex- and species-specific production of dienes. Further, these changes in diene production can be explained by simple modifications in the regulatory regions of the desatF gene, providing a molecular level understanding of the evolution of pheromone production in Drosophila.
Drosophila Cuticular Hydrocarbons (CH) influence courtship behaviour, mating, aggregation, oviposition, and resistance to desiccation. We measured levels of 24 different CH compounds of individual male D. melanogaster hourly under a variety of environmental (LD/DD) conditions. Using a model-based analysis of CH variation, we developed an improved normalization method for CH data, and show that CH compounds have reproducible cyclic within-day temporal patterns of expression which differ between LD and DD conditions. Multivariate clustering of expression patterns identified 5 clusters of co-expressed compounds with common chemical characteristics. Turnover rate estimates suggest CH production may be a significant metabolic cost. Male cuticular hydrocarbon expression is a dynamic trait influenced by light and time of day; since abundant hydrocarbons affect male sexual behavior, males may present different pheromonal profiles at different times and under different conditions.
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.
The response of individual animals to mating signals depends on the sexual identity of the individual and the genetics of the mating targets, which represent the mating social context (social environment). However, how social signals are sensed and integrated during mating decisions remains a mystery. One of the models for understanding mating behaviors in molecular and cellular terms is the male courtship ritual in the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). We have recently shown that a subset of gustatory receptor neurons (GRNs) that are enriched in the male appendages and express the ion channel ppk23 play a major role in the initiation and maintenance of male courtship via the perception of cuticular contact pheromones, and are likely to represent the main chemosensory pathway that influences mating decisions by males. Here we show that genetic feminization of ppk23-expressing GRNs in male flies resulted in a significant increase in male–male sexual attraction without an apparent impact on sexual attraction to females. Furthermore, we show that this increase in male–male sexual attraction is sensory specific, which can be modulated by variable social contexts. Finally, we show that feminization of ppk23-expressing sensory neurons lead to major transcriptional shifts, which may explain the altered interpretation of the social environment by feminized males. Together, these data indicate that the sexual cellular identity of pheromone sensing GRNs plays a major role in how individual flies interpret their social environment in the context of mating decisions.
Fruit fly; Courtship; ppk23; Poxn; transformer; DEG/ENaC
Many animal species communicate using chemical signals. In Drosophila, cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) are involved in species and sexual identification, and have long been thought to act as stimulatory pheromones as well. However, a previous study reported that D. melanogaster males were more attracted to females that were lacking CHCs. This surprising result is consistent with several evolutionary hypotheses but is at odds with other work demonstrating that female CHCs are attractive to males. Here, we investigated natural variation in male preferences for female pheromones using transgenic flies that cannot produce CHCs. By perfuming females with CHCs and performing mate choice tests, we found that some male genotypes prefer females with pheromones, some have no apparent preference, and at least one male genotype prefers females without pheromones. This variation provides an excellent opportunity to further investigate the mechanistic causes and evolutionary implications of divergent pheromone preferences in D. melanogaster males.
Sex pheromones are chemical signals frequently required for mate choice, but their reciprocal role on mate preference has rarely been shown in both sexes. In Drosophila melanogaster flies, the predominant cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs) are sexually dimorphic: only females produce 7,11-dienes, whereas 7-tricosene (7-T) is the principal male CH. Males generally prefer females with 7,11-dienes, but the role of 7-T on female behaviour remains unclear. With perfumed males, control females mated faster and more often with males carrying increased levels of 7-T showing that this CH acts as a chemical stimulant for D. melanogaster females. Control females—but not antenna-less females—could detect small variation of 7-T. Finally, our finding that desat1 mutant female showed altered response towards 7-T provides an additional role for this gene which affects the production and the perception of pheromones involved in mate choice, in both sexes.
male pheromone; 7-tricosene; female receptivity; antenna; desat1; Drosophila
We have established a new simple behavioral paradigm in Drosophila melanogaster to determine how genes and the environment influence the behavior of flies within a social group. Specifically, we measure social space as the distance between two flies. The majority of Canton-s flies, regardless of their gender, are within two-body lengths from each other. Their social experience affects this behavior, with social isolation reducing and mating enhancing social space respectively, in both males and females. Unlike several other social behaviors in the fly, including the formation of social groups themselves (a well described behavior - Bartelt et al., 1985, De Gee et al., 2008, Lof et al., 2008, Lof et al., 2009), social space does not require the perception of the previously identified aggregation pheromone cis-Vaccenyl Acetate (Bartelt et al., 1985). Conversely, performance of the assay in darkness or mutations in the eye pigmentation gene white increased social space. Our results establish a new assay for the genetic dissection of a fundamental mode of social interaction.
Drosophila; Social behavior; Social space; Social isolation; Mating; Orb83b, sbl1; white
Drosophila melanogaster males express two primary cuticular hydrocarbons (male-predominant hydrocarbons). These act as sex pheromones by influencing female receptivity to mating. The relative quantities of these hydrocarbons vary widely among natural populations and can contribute to variation in mating success. We tested four isofemale lines collected from a wild population to assess the effect of intrapopulation variation in male-predominant hydrocarbons on mating success. The receptivity of laboratory females to males of the four wild-caught lines varied significantly, but not consistently in the direction predicted by variation in male-predominant hydrocarbons. Receptivity of the wild-caught females to laboratory males also varied significantly, but females from lines with male-predominant hydrocarbon profiles closer to a more cosmopolitan one did not show a correspondingly strong mating bias toward a cosmopolitan male. Among wild-caught lines, the male-specific ejaculatory bulb lipid, cis-vaccenyl acetate, varied more than two-fold, but was not associated with variation in male mating success. We observed a strong inverse relationship between the receptivity of wild-caught females and the mating success of males from their own lines, when tested with laboratory flies of the opposite sex.
Females in a wide range of taxa have been shown to base their choice of mates on pheromone signals. However, little research has focussed specifically on the form and intensity of selection that mate choice imposes on the pheromone signal. Using multivariate selection analysis, we characterise directly the form and intensity of sexual selection acting on cuticular hydrocarbons, chemical compounds widely used in the selection of mates in insects. Using the Australian field cricket Teleogryllus oceanicus as a model organism, we use three measures of male attractiveness to estimate fitness; mating success, the duration of courtship required to elicit copulation, and subsequent spermatophore attachment duration.
We found that all three measures of male attractiveness generated sexual selection on male cuticular hydrocarbons, however there were differences in the form and intensity of selection among these three measures. Mating success was the only measure of attractiveness that imposed both univariate linear and quadratic selection on cuticular hydrocarbons. Although we found that all three attractiveness measures generated nonlinear selection, again only mating success was found to exert statistically significant stabilizing selection.
This study shows that sexual selection plays an important role in the evolution of male cuticular hydrocarbon signals.
Intraspecific variation in mating signals and preferences can be a potential source of incipient speciation. Variable crossability between Drosophila melanogaster and D. simulans among different strains suggested the abundance of such variations. A particular focus on one combination of D. melanogaster strains, TW1(G23) and Mel6(G59), that showed different crossabilities to D. simulans, revealed that the mating between females from the former and males from the latter occurs at low frequency. The cuticular hydrocarbon transfer experiment indicated that cuticular hydrocarbons of TW1 females have an inhibitory effect on courtship by Mel6 males. A candidate component, a C25 diene, was inferred from the gas chromatography analyses. The intensity of male refusal of TW1 females was variable among different strains of D. melanogaster, which suggested the presence of variation in sensitivity to different chemicals on the cuticle. Such variation could be a potential factor for the establishment of premating isolation under some conditions.
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.
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.
lush; Or67d; cVA; courtship; pheromone; olfaction
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.
courtship; Drosophila; olfaction; receptor; nervous system
Sexual isolation, the reduced tendency to mate, is one of the reproductive barriers that prevent gene flow between different species. Various species-specific signals during courtship contribute to sexual isolation between species. Drosophila albomicans and D. nasuta are closely related species of the nasuta subgroup within the Drosophila immigrans group and are distributed in allopatry. We analyzed mating behavior and courtship as well as cuticular hydrocarbon profiles within and between species. Here, we report that these two species randomly mated with each other. We did not observe any sexual isolation between species or between strains within species by multiple-choice tests. Significant difference in the courtship index was detected between these two species, but males and females of both species showed no discrimination against heterospecific partners. Significant quantitative variations in cuticular hydrocarbons between these two species were also found, but the cuticular hydrocarbons appear to play a negligible role in both courtship and sexual isolation between these two species. In contrast to the evident postzygotic isolation, the lack of sexual isolation between these two species suggests that the evolution of premating isolation may lag behind that of the intergenomic incompatibility, which might be driven by intragenomic conflicts.
Courtship; cuticular hydrocarbons; D. albomicans; D. nasuta; mating behavior; speciation
The sensory and genetic bases of incipient speciation between strains of Drosophila melanogaster from Zimbabwe and those from elsewhere are unknown. We studied mating behaviour between eight strains – six from Zimbabwe, together with two cosmopolitan strains. The Zimbabwe strains showed significant sexual isolation when paired with cosmopolitan males, due to Zimbabwe females discriminating against these males. Our results show that flies' cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs) were involved in this sexual isolation, but that visual and acoustic signals were not. The mating frequency of Zimbabwe females was highly significantly negatively correlated with the male's relative amount of 7-tricosene (%7-T), while the mating of cosmopolitan females was positively correlated with %7-T. Variation in transcription levels of two hydrocarbon-determining genes, desat1 and desat2, did not correlate with the observed mating patterns. Our study represents a step forward in our understanding of the sensory processes involved in this classic case of incipient speciation.
During courtship, the male Drosophila melanogaster sends signals to the female through two major sensory channels: chemical and acoustic. These signals are involved in the stimulation of the female to accept copulation. In order to determine the respective importance in the courtship of these signals, their production was controlled using genetical and surgical techniques. Males deprived of the ability to emit both signals are unable to mate, demonstrating that other (e.g. visual or tactile) signals are not sufficient to stimulate the female. If either acoustic or chemical signals are lacking, the courtship success is strongly reduced, the lack of the former having significantly more drastic effects. However, the accelerated matings of males observed with males bearing wild-type hydrocarbons compared with defective ones, whichever the modality of acoustic performance (wing vibration or playback), strongly support the role of cuticular compounds to stimulate females. We can conclude that among the possible factors involved in communication during courtship, acoustic and chemical signals may act in a synergistic way and not separately in D. melanogaster.
Sexual selection has the potential to contribute to population divergence and speciation. Most studies of sexual selection in Drosophila have concentrated on a single signaling modality, usually either courtship song or cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs), which can act as contact pheromones. We have examined the relationship between both signal types and reproductive success using F1–3 offspring of wild-collected flies, raised in the lab. We used two populations of the Holarctic species Drosophila montana that represent different phylogeographic clades that have been separate for ca. 0.5 million years (MY), and differ to some extent in both traits. Here, we characterize the nature and identify the targets of sexual selection on song, CHCs, and both traits combined within the populations. Three measures of courtship outcome were used as fitness proxies. They were the probability of mating, mating latency, and the production of rejection song by females, and showed patterns of association with different traits that included both linear and quadratic selection. Courtship song predicted courtship outcome better than CHCs and the signal modalities acted in an additive rather than synergistic manner. Selection was generally consistent in direction and strength between the two populations and favored males that sang more vigorously. Sexual selection differed in the extent, strength, and nature on some of the traits between populations. However, the differences in the directionality of selection detected were not a good predictor of population differences. In addition, a character previously shown to be important for species recognition, interpulse interval, was found to be under sexual selection. Our results highlight the complexity of understanding the relationship between within-population sexual selection and population differences. Sexual selection alone cannot predict differences between populations.
Courtship song; cuticular hydrocarbons; Drosophila montana; selection analysis; sexual selection
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.
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.
carboxylesterase; esterase 6; olfaction; pheromone; signal termination
The evolution of communication is a fundamental biological problem. The genetic control of the signal and its reception must be tightly coadapted, especially in inter-individual sexual communication. However, there is very little experimental evidence for tight genetic linkage connecting the emission of a signal and its reception. We found that a single genomic transposon inserted in the desat1 gene of Drosophila melanogaster simultaneously affected the emission and the perception of sex-specific signals. This mutation greatly decreased the production of unsaturated hydrocarbons on the cuticle of mature flies of both sexes. These substances represent the sex pheromones necessary for mate discrimination: control males could not discriminate the sex of mutant desat1 flies. Moreover, mutant males were unable to discriminate the sex pheromones of control flies. Expression of desat1 was found in the peripheral tissues that produce and detect sex pheromones. Excision of the transposon rescued both the production and discrimination phenotypes, but the two effects did not always coincide. This indicates that the emission and perception of pheromones are coded by different products of the same gene, reflecting the pleiotropic activity of desat1.
pheromonal communication; mate discrimination; desaturase; Drosophila; PGal4