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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Drosophila; olfaction; gustation; hearing; cis-vaccenyl acetate; pheromone
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.
We analyzed epicuticular hydrocarbon variation in geographically isolated populations of D. mojavensis cultured on different rearing substrates and a sibling species, D. arizonae, with ultraviolet laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (UV-LDI MS). Different body parts, i.e. legs, proboscis, and abdomens, of both species showed qualitatively similar hydrocarbon profiles consisting mainly of long-chain monoenes, dienes, trienes, and tetraenes. However, D. arizonae had higher amounts of most hydrocarbons than D. mojavensis and females of both species exhibited greater hydrocarbon amounts than males. Hydrocarbon profiles of D. mojavensis populations were significantly influenced by sex and rearing substrates, and differed between body parts. Lab food–reared flies had lower amounts of most hydrocarbons than flies reared on fermenting cactus substrates. We discovered 48 male- and species-specific hydrocarbons ranging in size from C22 to C50 in the male anogenital region of both species, most not described before. These included several oxygen-containing hydrocarbons in addition to high intensity signals corresponding to putative triacylglycerides, amounts of which were influenced by larval rearing substrates. Some of these compounds were transferred to female cuticles in high amounts during copulation. This is the first study showing that triacylglycerides may be a separate class of courtship-related signaling molecules in drosophilids. This study also extends the kind and number of epicuticular hydrocarbons in these species and emphasizes the role of larval ecology in influencing amounts of these compounds, many of which mediate courtship success within and between species.
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.
The waxy layer of the cuticle has been shown to play a fundamental role in recognition systems of insects. The biparental burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides is known to have the ability to discriminate between breeding and non-breeding conspecifics and also here cuticular substances could function as recognition cue. However, it has not yet been demonstrated that the pattern of cuticular lipids can reflect the breeding status of a beetle or of any other insect. With chemical analysis using coupled gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, we showed that the chemical signature of N. vespilloides males and females is highly complex and changes its feature with breeding status. Parental beetles were characterized by a higher amount of some unusual unsaturated hydrocarbons than beetles which are not caring for larvae. The striking correlation between cuticular profiles and breeding status suggests that cuticular hydrocarbons inform the beetles about parental state and thus enable them to discriminate between their breeding partner and a conspecific intruder. Furthermore, we found evidence that nutritional conditions also influence the cuticular profile and discuss the possibility that the diet provides the precursors for the unsaturated hydrocarbons observed in parental beetles. Our study underlines the fact that the cuticular pattern is rich of information and plays a central role in the burying beetles' communication systems.
burying beetles; Nicrophorus; recognition of reproductive status; chemical cues; cuticular hydrocarbons; polyenes