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1.  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
2.  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
3.  Peripheral, Central and Behavioral Responses to the Cuticular Pheromone Bouquet in Drosophila melanogaster Males 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19770.
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.
PMCID: PMC3098836  PMID: 21625481
4.  Rapid Evolution of Sex Pheromone-Producing Enzyme Expression in Drosophila 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(8):e1000168.
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.
Author Summary
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.
PMCID: PMC2711336  PMID: 19652700
5.  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
6.  Generalization of courtship learning in Drosophila is mediated by cis-vaccenyl acetate 
Current biology : CB  2007;17(7):599-605.
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.
PMCID: PMC1913718  PMID: 17363250
Learning and memory; olfaction; Drosophila; pheromones; cis-vaccenyl acetate
7.  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
8.  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
9.  An Inhibitory Sex Pheromone Tastes Bitter for Drosophila Males 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(8):e661.
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.
PMCID: PMC1937024  PMID: 17710124
10.  Variation in the Male Pheromones and Mating Success of Wild Caught Drosophila melanogaster 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23645.
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.
PMCID: PMC3157407  PMID: 21858189
11.  A Model-Based Analysis of Chemical and Temporal Patterns of Cuticular Hydrocarbons in Male Drosophila melanogaster 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(9):e962.
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.
PMCID: PMC1978534  PMID: 17896002
12.  Insulin Signaling Mediates Sexual Attractiveness in Drosophila 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(4):e1002684.
Sexually attractive characteristics are often thought to reflect an individual's condition or reproductive potential, but the underlying molecular mechanisms through which they do so are generally unknown. Insulin/insulin-like growth factor signaling (IIS) is known to modulate aging, reproduction, and stress resistance in several species and to contribute to variability of these traits in natural populations. Here we show that IIS determines sexual attractiveness in Drosophila through transcriptional regulation of genes involved in the production of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHC), many of which function as pheromones. Using traditional gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) together with newly introduced laser desorption/ionization orthogonal time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LDI-MS) we establish that CHC profiles are significantly affected by genetic manipulations that target IIS. Manipulations that reduce IIS also reduce attractiveness, while females with increased IIS are significantly more attractive than wild-type animals. IIS effects on attractiveness are mediated by changes in CHC profiles. Insulin signaling influences CHC through pathways that are likely independent of dFOXO and that may involve the nutrient-sensing Target of Rapamycin (TOR) pathway. These results suggest that the activity of conserved molecular regulators of longevity and reproductive output may manifest in different species as external characteristics that are perceived as honest indicators of fitness potential.
Author Summary
In nature, a myriad of specialized traits have evolved that are used for intraspecific communication and mate choice. We postulated that certain traits may have evolved to be attractive by virtue of their accurate representation of molecular pathways that are critical for determining evolutionary fitness. Insulin signaling (IIS) is one such pathway. It has been shown to modulate aging, reproduction, and stress resistance in several species and to contribute to variability of these traits in natural populations. We therefore asked whether IIS affected key sexual characteristics and overall attractiveness in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. We found that IIS regulates cuticular hydrocarbons (the key pheromones in flies), that reduced IIS also reduced attractiveness, and that flies with increased IIS were significantly more attractive than wild-type animals. Further experiments revealed that these effects may also be influenced by a second conserved nutrient-sensitive pathway, the TOR pathway. We suggest that natural selection may have favored a plethora of species-specific sexual characteristics because they accurately represent a small number of influential pathways that determine longevity and reproductive output across taxa. In other words, it may be that, whether fly or human, beauty is more than skin-deep.
PMCID: PMC3343104  PMID: 22570625
13.  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
14.  A Drosophila male pheromone affects female sexual receptivity 
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.
PMCID: PMC1560049  PMID: 16543174
male pheromone; 7-tricosene; female receptivity; antenna; desat1; Drosophila
15.  Contribution of oenocytes and pheromones to courtship behaviour in Drosophila 
BMC Biochemistry  2009;10:21.
In Drosophila, cuticular sex pheromones are long-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons synthesized from fatty acid precursors in epidermal cells called oenocytes. The species D. melanogaster shows sex pheromone dimorphism, with high levels of monoenes in males, and of dienes in females. Some biosynthesis enzymes are expressed both in fat body and oenocytes, rendering it difficult to estimate the exact role of oenocytes and of the transport of fatty acids from fat body to oenocytes in pheromone elaboration. To address this question, we RNAi silenced two main genes of the biosynthesis pathway, desat1 and desatF, in the oenocytes of D. melanogaster, without modifying their fat body expression.
Inactivation of desat1 in oenocytes resulted in a 96% and 78% decrease in unsaturated hydrocarbons in males and females, respectively. Female pheromones (dienes) showed a decrease of 90%. Inactivation of desatF, which is female-specific and responsible for diene formation, resulted in a dramatic loss of pheromones (-98%) paralleled with a two-fold increase in monoenes. Courtship parameters (especially courtship latency) from wild-type males were more affected by desat1 knocked-down females (courtship latency increased by four fold) than by desatF knocked-down ones (+65% of courtship latency).
The number of transcripts in oenocytes was estimated at 0.32 and 0.49 attomole/μg for desat1 in males and females, respectively, about half of the total transcripts in a fly. There were only 0.06 attomole/μg desatF transcripts in females, all located in the oenocytes.
Knock-down results for desat1 suggest that there must be very little transport of unsaturated precursors from fat body to the oenocytes, so pheromone synthesis occurs almost entirely through the action of biosynthesis enzymes within the oenocytes. Courtship experiments allow us to discuss the behavioral role of diene pheromones, which, under special conditions, could be replaced by monoenes in D. melanogaster. A possible explanation is given of how pheromones could have evolved in species such as D. simulans, which only synthesize monoenes.
PMCID: PMC2734525  PMID: 19671131
16.  Feminization of pheromone-sensing neurons affects mating decisions in Drosophila males 
Biology Open  2014;3(2):152-160.
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.
PMCID: PMC3925318  PMID: 24463366
Fruit fly; Courtship; ppk23; Poxn; transformer; DEG/ENaC
17.  Natural Variation in the Strength and Direction of Male Mating Preferences for Female Pheromones in Drosophila melanogaster 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e87509.
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.
PMCID: PMC3905024  PMID: 24489930
18.  Simultaneously Hermaphroditic Shrimp Use Lipophilic Cuticular Hydrocarbons as Contact Sex Pheromones 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e17720.
Successful mating is essentially a consequence of making the right choices at the correct time. Animals use specific strategies to gain information about a potential mate, which is then applied to decision-making processes. Amongst the many informative signals, odor cues such as sex pheromones play important ecological roles in coordinating mating behavior, enabling mate and kin recognition, qualifying mate choice, and preventing gene exchange among individuals from different populations and species. Despite overwhelming behavioral evidence, the chemical identity of most cues used in aquatic organisms remains unknown and their impact and omnipresence have not been fully recognized. In many crustaceans, including lobsters and shrimps, reproduction happens through a cascade of events ranging from initial attraction to formation of a mating pair eventually leading to mating. We examined the hypothesis that contact pheromones on the female body surface of the hermaphroditic shrimp Lysmata boggessi are of lipophilic nature, and resemble insect cuticular hydrocarbon contact cues. Via chemical analyses and behavioural assays, we show that newly molted euhermaphrodite-phase shrimp contain a bouquet of odor compounds. Of these, (Z)-9-octadecenamide is the key odor with hexadecanamide and methyl linoleate enhancing the bioactivity of the pheromone blend. Our results show that in aquatic systems lipophilic, cuticular hydrocarbon contact sex pheromones exist; this raises questions on how hydrocarbon contact signals evolved and how widespread these are in the marine environment.
PMCID: PMC3080367  PMID: 21533136
19.  Genetic determinants of mate recognition in Brachionus manjavacas (Rotifera) 
BMC Biology  2009;7:60.
Mate choice is of central importance to most animals, influencing population structure, speciation, and ultimately the survival of a species. Mating behavior of male brachionid rotifers is triggered by the product of a chemosensory gene, a glycoprotein on the body surface of females called the mate recognition pheromone. The mate recognition pheromone has been biochemically characterized, but little was known about the gene(s). We describe the isolation and characterization of the mate recognition pheromone gene through protein purification, N-terminal amino acid sequence determination, identification of the mate recognition pheromone gene from a cDNA library, sequencing, and RNAi knockdown to confirm the functional role of the mate recognition pheromone gene in rotifer mating.
A 29 kD protein capable of eliciting rotifer male circling was isolated by high-performance liquid chromatography. Two transcript types containing the N-terminal sequence were identified in a cDNA library; further characterization by screening a genomic library and by polymerase chain reaction revealed two genes belonging to each type. Each gene begins with a signal peptide region followed by nearly perfect repeats of an 87 to 92 codon motif with no codons between repeats and the final motif prematurely terminated by the stop codon. The two Type A genes contain four and seven repeats and the two Type B genes contain three and five repeats, respectively. Only the Type B gene with three repeats encodes a peptide with a molecular weight of 29 kD. Each repeat of the Type B gene products contains three asparagines as potential sites for N-glycosylation; there are no asparagines in the Type A genes. RNAi with Type A double-stranded RNA did not result in less circling than in the phosphate-buffered saline control, but transfection with Type B double-stranded RNA significantly reduced male circling by 17%. The very low divergence between repeat units, even at synonymous positions, suggests that the repeats are kept nearly identical through a process of concerted evolution. Information-rich molecules like surface glycoproteins are well adapted for chemical communication and aquatic animals may have evolved signaling systems based on these compounds, whereas insects use cuticular hydrocarbons.
Owing to its critical role in mating, the mate recognition pheromone gene will be a useful molecular marker for exploring the mechanisms and rates of selection and the evolution of reproductive isolation and speciation using rotifers as a model system. The phylogenetic variation in the mate recognition pheromone gene can now be studied in conjunction with the large amount of ecological and population genetic data being gathered for the Brachionus plicatilis species complex to understand better the evolutionary drivers of cryptic speciation.
PMCID: PMC2746195  PMID: 19740420
20.  Sexual selection on cuticular hydrocarbons in the Australian field cricket, Teleogryllus oceanicus 
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.
PMCID: PMC2728729  PMID: 19594896
21.  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
22.  Sex-specific triacylglycerides are widely conserved in Drosophila and mediate mating behavior 
eLife  2014;3:e01751.
Pheromones play an important role in the behavior, ecology, and evolution of many organisms. The structure of many insect pheromones typically consists of a hydrocarbon backbone, occasionally modified with various functional oxygen groups. Here we show that sex-specific triacylclyerides (TAGs) are broadly conserved across the subgenus Drosophila in 11 species and represent a novel class of pheromones that has been largely overlooked. In desert-adapted drosophilids, 13 different TAGs are secreted exclusively by males from the ejaculatory bulb, transferred to females during mating, and function synergistically to inhibit courtship from other males. Sex-specific TAGs are comprised of at least one short branched tiglic acid and a long linear fatty acyl component, an unusual structural motif that has not been reported before in other natural products. The diversification of chemical cues used by desert-adapted Drosophila as pheromones may be related to their specialized diet of fermenting cacti.
eLife digest
For animals, the ultimate purpose of life is to have sex, as nothing is more important than passing down your genes to future generations. A wide range of strategies are therefore employed throughout nature to maximize the chances of sexual success, from ostentatious courtship rituals to the subtle subliminal signals sent out using chemicals called pheromones. Plants and animals release pheromones to influence the behavior of other plants and animals, often without the recipient being aware of it.
Hundreds of different insect pheromones have been discovered. Fruit flies release a number of different pheromones, all with similar chemical structures. Now, Chin et al. have discovered that male flies belonging to several species of fruit fly that live in the desert release chemicals called triacylglycerides (TAGs), which are commonly used for energy storage by many organisms as pheromones. During sex, the male fly rubs the TAGs onto the body of the female, which makes her less attractive to other male flies for several hours, thus increasing his chances of parenthood and passing his genes to future generations.
TAGs are also found in other insect species, but have been largely overlooked as pheromones. Moreover, the TAGs discovered by Chin et al. have an unusual structure, not previously seen in nature, which may result from the diet of fermenting cacti the desert-dwelling fruit flies enjoy.
PMCID: PMC3948109  PMID: 24618898
ozone-induced dissociation; mass spectrometry; behavior; D. arizonae; D. mojavensis; laser desorption ionzation; D. melanogaster
23.  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
24.  Functional coupling of acoustic and chemical signals in the courtship behaviour of the male Drosophila melanogaster. 
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.
PMCID: PMC1690944  PMID: 11934360
25.  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

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