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1.  Differential Interactions of Sex Pheromone and Plant Odour in the Olfactory Pathway of a Male Moth 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33159.
Most animals rely on olfaction to find sexual partners, food or a habitat. The olfactory system faces the challenge of extracting meaningful information from a noisy odorous environment. In most moth species, males respond to sex pheromone emitted by females in an environment with abundant plant volatiles. Plant odours could either facilitate the localization of females (females calling on host plants), mask the female pheromone or they could be neutral without any effect on the pheromone. Here we studied how mixtures of a behaviourally-attractive floral odour, heptanal, and the sex pheromone are encoded at different levels of the olfactory pathway in males of the noctuid moth Agrotis ipsilon. In addition, we asked how interactions between the two odorants change as a function of the males' mating status. We investigated mixture detection in both the pheromone-specific and in the general odorant pathway. We used a) recordings from individual sensilla to study responses of olfactory receptor neurons, b) in vivo calcium imaging with a bath-applied dye to characterize the global input response in the primary olfactory centre, the antennal lobe and c) intracellular recordings of antennal lobe output neurons, projection neurons, in virgin and newly-mated males. Our results show that heptanal reduces pheromone sensitivity at the peripheral and central olfactory level independently of the mating status. Contrarily, heptanal-responding olfactory receptor neurons are not influenced by pheromone in a mixture, although some post-mating modulation occurs at the input of the sexually isomorphic ordinary glomeruli, where general odours are processed within the antennal lobe. The results are discussed in the context of mate localization.
PMCID: PMC3299628  PMID: 22427979
2.  Characterization and Coding of Behaviorally Significant Odor Mixtures 
Current biology : CB  2009;19(4):335-340.
For animals to execute odor-driven behaviors, the olfactory system must process complex odor signals and maintain stimulus identity in the face of constantly changing odor intensities [1–5]. Surprisingly, how the olfactory system maintains identity of complex odors is unclear [6–10]. We took advantage of the plant-pollinator relationship between the Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii) and the moth Manduca sexta [11, 12] to determine how olfactory networks in this insect’s brain represent odor mixtures. We combined gas chromatography and neural-ensemble recording in the moth’s antennal lobe to examine population codes for the floral mixture and its fractionated components. Although the floral scent of D. wrightii comprises at least 60 compounds, only nine of those elicited robust neural responses. Behavioral experiments confirmed that these nine odorants mediate flower-foraging behaviors, but only as a mixture. Moreover, the mixture evoked equivalent foraging behaviors over a 1000-fold range in dilution, suggesting a singular percept across this concentration range. Furthermore, neural-ensemble recordings in the moth’s antennal lobe revealed that reliable encoding of the floral mixture is organized through synchronized activity distributed across a population of glomerular coding units, and this timing mechanism may bind the features of a complex stimulus into a coherent odor percept.
PMCID: PMC2677194  PMID: 19230669
3.  Food odors trigger Drosophila males to deposit a pheromone that guides aggregation and female oviposition decisions 
eLife  null;4:e08688.
Animals use olfactory cues for navigating complex environments. Food odors in particular provide crucial information regarding potential foraging sites. Many behaviors occur at food sites, yet how food odors regulate such behaviors at these sites is unclear. Using Drosophila melanogaster as an animal model, we found that males deposit the pheromone 9-tricosene upon stimulation with the food-odor apple cider vinegar. This pheromone acts as a potent aggregation pheromone and as an oviposition guidance cue for females. We use genetic, molecular, electrophysiological, and behavioral approaches to show that 9-tricosene activates antennal basiconic Or7a receptors, a receptor activated by many alcohols and aldehydes such as the green leaf volatile E2-hexenal. We demonstrate that loss of Or7a positive neurons or the Or7a receptor abolishes aggregation behavior and oviposition site-selection towards 9-tricosene and E2-hexenal. 9-Tricosene thus functions via Or7a to link food-odor perception with aggregation and egg-laying decisions.
eLife digest
Animals rely on their sense of smell to navigate their environments; for example, the smell of food attracts animals to particular locations. These food-rich sites are also popular places for meeting, mating, and rearing offspring. Scent molecules emitted by animals can also attract others to a particular location or affect their behaviour. These molecules are known as pheromones.
Little is understood about how cues from food and pheromones interact to influence animal behavior. Studies of the Drosophila species of fruit fly have been conducted to tease out these interactions. Fruit flies are attracted to the smell of food—particularly overripe or rotting fruit—and often congregate at a food source to mate and lay their eggs. But whether it is the food itself or other cues that trigger these behaviors is not clear.
Now, Lin et al. reveal that male fruit flies emit a pheromone in response to the smell of food. This pheromone attracts females to the food to mate and encourages the females to lay their eggs at the food-rich site. This allows the male fly to have some say as to where his offspring will be laid and also increases the chances that his offspring will survive.
Using genetic and other experiments, Lin et al. found that the pheromone is detected by a receptor on the antennae of the female flies. This stimulates a specific type of brain cell that causes the female to lay her eggs at the site where the pheromone has been deposited. A chemical released by rotting fruit also stimulates these receptors and encourages the females to congregate and lay eggs.
The body of a male fly is coated by many different pheromones, yet he deposits only a select few upon smelling a food odor. How this occurs remains to be determined, but suggests that different pheromones might be localized to different body parts. By rubbing just those parts onto their surroundings, the male might be able to deposit a specific pheromone. How food odors specifically trigger this response, or if other flying insects also deposit pheromones in response to food odors, remains to be determined.
PMCID: PMC4621432  PMID: 26422512
olfaction; pheromone; oviposition; aggregation; D. melanogaster
4.  Plant odorants interfere with detection of sex pheromone signals by male Heliothis virescens 
In many insects, mate finding relies on female-released sex pheromones, which have to be deciphered by the male olfactory system within an odorous background of plant volatiles present in the environment of a calling female. With respect to pheromone-mediated mate localization, plant odorants may be neutral, favorable, or disturbing. Here we examined the impact of plant odorants on detection and coding of the major sex pheromone component, (Z)-11-hexadecenal (Z11-16:Ald) in the noctuid moth Heliothis virescens. By in vivo imaging the activity in the male antennal lobe (AL), we monitored the interference at the level of olfactory sensory neurons (OSN) to illuminate mixture interactions. The results show that stimulating the male antenna with Z11-16:Ald and distinct plant-related odorants simultaneously suppressed pheromone-evoked activity in the region of the macroglomerular complex (MGC), where Z11-16:Ald-specific OSNs terminate. Based on our previous findings that antennal detection of Z11-16:Ald involves an interplay of the pheromone binding protein (PBP) HvirPBP2 and the pheromone receptor (PR) HR13, we asked if the plant odorants may interfere with any of the elements involved in pheromone detection. Using a competitive fluorescence binding assay, we found that the plant odorants neither bind to HvirPBP2 nor affect the binding of Z11-16:Ald to the protein. However, imaging experiments analyzing a cell line that expressed the receptor HR13 revealed that plant odorants significantly inhibited the Z11-16:Ald-evoked calcium responses. Together the results indicate that plant odorants can interfere with the signaling process of the major sex pheromone component at the receptor level. Consequently, it can be assumed that plant odorants in the environment may reduce the firing activity of pheromone-specific OSNs in H. virescens and thus affect mate localization.
PMCID: PMC3465774  PMID: 23060749
pheromone detection; antennal lobe; pheromone receptor; pheromone binding protein; olfaction
5.  A Single Sex Pheromone Receptor Determines Chemical Response Specificity of Sexual Behavior in the Silkmoth Bombyx mori 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(6):e1002115.
In insects and other animals, intraspecific communication between individuals of the opposite sex is mediated in part by chemical signals called sex pheromones. In most moth species, male moths rely heavily on species-specific sex pheromones emitted by female moths to identify and orient towards an appropriate mating partner among a large number of sympatric insect species. The silkmoth, Bombyx mori, utilizes the simplest possible pheromone system, in which a single pheromone component, (E, Z)-10,12-hexadecadienol (bombykol), is sufficient to elicit full sexual behavior. We have previously shown that the sex pheromone receptor BmOR1 mediates specific detection of bombykol in the antennae of male silkmoths. However, it is unclear whether the sex pheromone receptor is the minimally sufficient determination factor that triggers initiation of orientation behavior towards a potential mate. Using transgenic silkmoths expressing the sex pheromone receptor PxOR1 of the diamondback moth Plutella xylostella in BmOR1-expressing neurons, we show that the selectivity of the sex pheromone receptor determines the chemical response specificity of sexual behavior in the silkmoth. Bombykol receptor neurons expressing PxOR1 responded to its specific ligand, (Z)-11-hexadecenal (Z11-16:Ald), in a dose-dependent manner. Male moths expressing PxOR1 exhibited typical pheromone orientation behavior and copulation attempts in response to Z11-16:Ald and to females of P. xylostella. Transformation of the bombykol receptor neurons had no effect on their projections in the antennal lobe. These results indicate that activation of bombykol receptor neurons alone is sufficient to trigger full sexual behavior. Thus, a single gene defines behavioral selectivity in sex pheromone communication in the silkmoth. Our findings show that a single molecular determinant can not only function as a modulator of behavior but also as an all-or-nothing initiator of a complex species-specific behavioral sequence.
Author Summary
Like many animal species, moths use chemical signals called sex pheromones to communicate with conspecific individuals of the opposite sex in the context of reproduction. Typically, male moths depend on sex pheromones emitted by conspecific females to identify and locate their mates. Therefore, the behavioral preference of male moths to conspecific pheromones is a critical factor for successful reproduction. Sex pheromone receptor proteins expressed in specialized antennal olfactory receptor neurons reportedly play a central role in sex pheromone discrimination. However, the causal relationship between sex pheromone receptor specificity and behavioral preference remains to be proven. We have addressed this question in a genetically tractable moth species, the silkmoth (Bombyx mori), because this species possesses the simplest possible pheromone system in which a single pheromone substance, bombykol, elicits full sexual behavior. Using transgenic silkmoths expressing a sex pheromone receptor from another moth species, we revealed that solely the chemical specificity of the odorant receptors in bombykol receptor neurons determines the behavioral preference in male silkmoths. Our results show that the initiation of a complex programmed sexual behavior can depend on the properties of a single pheromone receptor gene expressed in a population of olfactory receptor neurons.
PMCID: PMC3128102  PMID: 21738481
6.  Honeybees Learn Odour Mixtures via a Selection of Key Odorants 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(2):e9110.
The honeybee has to detect, process and learn numerous complex odours from her natural environment on a daily basis. Most of these odours are floral scents, which are mixtures of dozens of different odorants. To date, it is still unclear how the bee brain unravels the complex information contained in scent mixtures.
Methodology/Principal Findings
This study investigates learning of complex odour mixtures in honeybees using a simple olfactory conditioning procedure, the Proboscis-Extension-Reflex (PER) paradigm. Restrained honeybees were trained to three scent mixtures composed of 14 floral odorants each, and then tested with the individual odorants of each mixture. Bees did not respond to all odorants of a mixture equally: They responded well to a selection of key odorants, which were unique for each of the three scent mixtures. Bees showed less or very little response to the other odorants of the mixtures. The bees' response to mixtures composed of only the key odorants was as good as to the original mixtures of 14 odorants. A mixture composed of the other, non-key-odorants elicited a significantly lower response. Neither an odorant's volatility or molecular structure, nor learning efficiencies for individual odorants affected whether an odorant became a key odorant for a particular mixture. Odorant concentration had a positive effect, with odorants at high concentration likely to become key odorants.
Our study suggests that the brain processes complex scent mixtures by predominantly learning information from selected key odorants. Our observations on key odorant learning lend significant support to previous work on olfactory learning and mixture processing in honeybees.
PMCID: PMC2817008  PMID: 20161714
7.  A Large-Scale Analysis of Odor Coding in the Olfactory Epithelium 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2011;31(25):9179-9191.
Mammals can perceive and discriminate myriad volatile chemicals as having a distinct odor. Odorants are initially detected by odorant receptors (ORs) on olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) in the nose. In the mouse, each OSN expresses one of ∼1000 different OR genes. Although OSNs and their expressed ORs constitute the fundamental units of sensory input to the brain, a comprehensive understanding of how they encode odor identities is still lacking. To gain a broader and more detailed understanding of odorant recognition and odor coding at this level, we tested the responses of 3000 mouse OSNs to 125 odorants with diverse structures and perceived odors. These studies revealed extraordinary diversity, but also bias, in odorant recognition by the OSN, and thus OR, repertoire. They indicate that most OSNs are narrowly tuned to detect a subset of odorants with related structures and often related odors, but that the repertoire also includes broadly tuned components. Strikingly, the vast majority of odorants activated a unique set of OSNs, usually two or more in combination. The resulting combinatorial codes varied in size among odorants and sometimes contained both narrowly and broadly tuned components. While many OSNs recognized multiple odorants, some appeared specific for a given pheromone or other animal-associated compound, or for one or more odorants with a particular odor quality, raising the possibility that signals derived from some OSNs and ORs might elicit an innate behavior or convey a specific odor quality.
PMCID: PMC3758579  PMID: 21697369
8.  Representation of pheromones, interspecific signals, and plant odors in higher olfactory centers; mapping physiologically identified antennal-lobe projection neurons in the male heliothine moth 
The arrangement of anatomically separated systems for information about general and pheromone odorants is well documented at the initial levels of the olfactory pathway both in vertebrates and insects. In the primary olfactory center of the moth brain, for example, a few enlarged glomeruli situated dorsally, at the entrance of the antennal nerve, are devoted to information about female-produced substances whereas a set of more numerous ordinary glomeruli (OG) receives input about general odorants. Heliothine moths are particularly suitable for studying central chemosensory mechanisms not only because of their anatomically separated systems for plant odors and pheromones but also due to their use of female-produced substances in communication across the species. Thus, the male-specific system of heliothine moths includes two sub-arrangements, one ensuring attraction and mating behavior by carrying information about pheromones released by conspecifics, and the other inhibition of attraction via signal information emitted from heterospecifics. Based on previous tracing experiments, a general chemotopic organization of the male-specific glomeruli has been demonstrated in a number of heliothine species. As compared to the well explored organization of the moth antennal lobe (AL), demonstrating a non-overlapping representation of the biologically relevant stimuli, less is known about the neural arrangement residing at the following synaptic level, i.e., the mushroom body calyces and the lateral horn. In the study presented here, we have labeled physiologically characterized antennal-lobe projection neurons in males of the two heliothine species, Heliothis virescens and Helicoverpa assulta, for the purpose of mapping their target regions in the protocerebrum. In order to compare the representation of plant odors, pheromones, and interspecific signals in the higher brain regions of each species, we have created standard brain atlases and registered three-dimensional models of distinct uniglomerular projection neuron types into the relevant atlas.
PMCID: PMC4191081  PMID: 25346663
standard brain atlas; antennal-lobe projection neurons; lateral horn; antennal-lobe glomeruli; macroglomerular complex (MGC)
9.  Temporal Features of Spike Trains in the Moth Antennal Lobe Revealed by a Comparative Time-Frequency Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e84037.
The discrimination of complex sensory stimuli in a noisy environment is an immense computational task. Sensory systems often encode stimulus features in a spatiotemporal fashion through the complex firing patterns of individual neurons. To identify these temporal features, we have developed an analysis that allows the comparison of statistically significant features of spike trains localized over multiple scales of time-frequency resolution. Our approach provides an original way to utilize the discrete wavelet transform to process instantaneous rate functions derived from spike trains, and select relevant wavelet coefficients through statistical analysis. Our method uncovered localized features within olfactory projection neuron (PN) responses in the moth antennal lobe coding for the presence of an odor mixture and the concentration of single component odorants, but not for compound identities. We found that odor mixtures evoked earlier responses in biphasic response type PNs compared to single components, which led to differences in the instantaneous firing rate functions with their signal power spread across multiple frequency bands (ranging from 0 to 45.71 Hz) during a time window immediately preceding behavioral response latencies observed in insects. Odor concentrations were coded in excited response type PNs both in low frequency band differences (2.86 to 5.71 Hz) during the stimulus and in the odor trace after stimulus offset in low (0 to 2.86 Hz) and high (22.86 to 45.71 Hz) frequency bands. These high frequency differences in both types of PNs could have particular relevance for recruiting cellular activity in higher brain centers such as mushroom body Kenyon cells. In contrast, neurons in the specialized pheromone-responsive area of the moth antennal lobe exhibited few stimulus-dependent differences in temporal response features. These results provide interesting insights on early insect olfactory processing and introduce a novel comparative approach for spike train analysis applicable to a variety of neuronal data sets.
PMCID: PMC3896344  PMID: 24465391
10.  Molecular and neural mechanisms of sex pheromone reception and processing in the silkmoth Bombyx mori 
Male moths locate their mates using species-specific sex pheromones emitted by conspecific females. One striking feature of sex pheromone recognition in males is the high degree of specificity and sensitivity at all levels, from the primary sensory processes to behavior. The silkmoth Bombyx mori is an excellent model insect in which to decipher the underlying mechanisms of sex pheromone recognition due to its simple sex pheromone communication system, where a single pheromone component, bombykol, elicits the full sexual behavior of male moths. Various technical advancements that cover all levels of analysis from molecular to behavioral also allow the systematic analysis of pheromone recognition mechanisms. Sex pheromone signals are detected by pheromone receptors expressed in olfactory receptor neurons in the pheromone-sensitive sensilla trichodea on male antennae. The signals are transmitted to the first olfactory processing center, the antennal lobe (AL), and then are processed further in the higher centers (mushroom body and lateral protocerebrum) to elicit orientation behavior toward females. In recent years, significant progress has been made elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying the detection of sex pheromones. In addition, extensive studies of the AL and higher centers have provided insights into the neural basis of pheromone processing in the silkmoth brain. This review describes these latest advances, and discusses what these advances have revealed about the mechanisms underlying the specific and sensitive recognition of sex pheromones in the silkmoth.
PMCID: PMC3978319  PMID: 24744736
insect; silkmoth; olfaction; sex pheromone; pheromone-source searching behavior
11.  Reactive Searching and Infotaxis in Odor Source Localization 
PLoS Computational Biology  2014;10(10):e1003861.
Male moths aiming to locate pheromone-releasing females rely on stimulus-adapted search maneuvers complicated by a discontinuous distribution of pheromone patches. They alternate sequences of upwind surge when perceiving the pheromone and cross- or downwind casting when the odor is lost. We compare four search strategies: three reactive versus one cognitive. The former consist of pre-programmed movement sequences triggered by pheromone detections while the latter uses Bayesian inference to build spatial probability maps. Based on the analysis of triphasic responses of antennal lobe neurons (On, inhibition, Off), we propose three reactive strategies. One combines upwind surge (representing the On response to a pheromone detection) and spiral casting, only. The other two additionally include crosswind (zigzag) casting representing the Off phase. As cognitive strategy we use the infotaxis algorithm which was developed for searching in a turbulent medium. Detection events in the electroantennogram of a moth attached to a robot indirectly control this cyborg, depending on the strategy in use. The recorded trajectories are analyzed with regard to success rates, efficiency, and other features. In addition, we qualitatively compare our robotic trajectories to behavioral search paths. Reactive searching is more efficient (yielding shorter trajectories) for higher pheromone doses whereas cognitive searching works better for lower doses. With respect to our experimental conditions (2 m from starting position to pheromone source), reactive searching with crosswind zigzag yields the shortest trajectories (for comparable success rates). Assuming that the neuronal Off response represents a short-term memory, zigzagging is an efficient movement to relocate a recently lost pheromone plume. Accordingly, such reactive strategies offer an interesting alternative to complex cognitive searching.
Author Summary
The moth mating race is a suitable model case for studying the efficiency of various search strategies and to compare them to real-world behavior. All there is to guide olfactory navigation are simple sporadic clues, i.e., single pheromone detections. Thus, a pheromone seeking male relies on a specifically adapted behavior where action selection is triggered by simple perceptional events. They switch between stereotypical movement sequences, as, for example, upwind surge and crosswind casting. This behavior can be either a consequence of cognitive processing or a reactive reflex of fixed action patterns. Suggesting a direct relationship between neuronal central activity and such action patterns, we combine and implement them as reactive strategies. We also employ infotaxis, an artificial intelligence algorithm specifically developed for searching in turbulent odor plumes. Using these strategies in cyborg experiments, we obtain and compare the resulting search trajectories. Our results indicate that complex, computationally expensive search strategies like infotaxis are not necessarily better than simple reactive ones. With respect to our set-up, reactive searching yields the shortest trajectories if and only if it includes a crosswind zigzagging phase that represents a short-term memory. Thus, already a minimal bit of simplistic memory can produce very efficient goal-directed behavior.
PMCID: PMC4211930  PMID: 25330317
12.  Pheromone Transduction in Moths 
Calling female moths attract their mates late at night with intermittent release of a species-specific sex-pheromone blend. Mean frequency of pheromone filaments encodes distance to the calling female. In their zig-zagging upwind search male moths encounter turbulent pheromone blend filaments at highly variable concentrations and frequencies. The male moth antennae are delicately designed to detect and distinguish even traces of these sex pheromones amongst the abundance of other odors. Its olfactory receptor neurons sense even single pheromone molecules and track intermittent pheromone filaments of highly variable frequencies up to about 30 Hz over a wide concentration range. In the hawkmoth Manduca sexta brief, weak pheromone stimuli as encountered during flight are detected via a metabotropic PLCβ-dependent signal transduction cascade which leads to transient changes in intracellular Ca2+ concentrations. Strong or long pheromone stimuli, which are possibly perceived in direct contact with the female, activate receptor-guanylyl cyclases causing long-term adaptation. In addition, depending on endogenous rhythms of the moth's physiological state, hormones such as the stress hormone octopamine modulate second messenger levels in sensory neurons. High octopamine levels during the activity phase maximize temporal resolution cAMP-dependently as a prerequisite to mate location. Thus, I suggest that sliding adjustment of odor response threshold and kinetics is based upon relative concentration ratios of intracellular Ca2+ and cyclic nucleotide levels which gate different ion channels synergistically. In addition, I propose a new hypothesis for the cyclic nucleotide-dependent ion channel formed by insect olfactory receptor/coreceptor complexes. Instead of being employed for an ionotropic mechanism of odor detection it is proposed to control subthreshold membrane potential oscillation of sensory neurons, as a basis for temporal encoding of odors.
PMCID: PMC3018772  PMID: 21228914
insect olfaction; second messengers; octopamine; circadian rhythms; signal transduction cascades; field potentials; subthreshold membrane potential oscillations; temporal encoding
13.  Starvation promotes concerted modulation of appetitive olfactory behavior via parallel neuromodulatory circuits 
eLife  null;4:e08298.
The internal state of an organism influences its perception of attractive or aversive stimuli and thus promotes adaptive behaviors that increase its likelihood of survival. The mechanisms underlying these perceptual shifts are critical to our understanding of how neural circuits support animal cognition and behavior. Starved flies exhibit enhanced sensitivity to attractive odors and reduced sensitivity to aversive odors. Here, we show that a functional remodeling of the olfactory map is mediated by two parallel neuromodulatory systems that act in opposing directions on olfactory attraction and aversion at the level of the first synapse. Short neuropeptide F sensitizes an antennal lobe glomerulus wired for attraction, while tachykinin (DTK) suppresses activity of a glomerulus wired for aversion. Thus we show parallel neuromodulatory systems functionally reconfigure early olfactory processing to optimize detection of nutrients at the risk of ignoring potentially toxic food resources.
eLife digest
Animals typically need to forage for their food, but doing so is not without risk. Foraging can expose an animal to predators and harmful toxins. Many animals use odors and other chemical signals to help them locate food or to avoid harm. In some animals, such as fruit flies, different parts of the nervous system are hardwired to encourage individuals to move towards attractive odors or away from unpleasant ones.
Fruit flies feed on the yeast that grows on decaying fruit. They do so by ignoring fresh fruits (which have very little yeast) and avoiding overly-rotten fruits (which might contain toxic chemicals). To determine ripeness, flies use a fruit's vinegar levels: fresh fruits contain low levels of vinegar, while fermented fruits have high levels. Previous studies using low levels of vinegar have shown that well-fed flies largely ignore the scent, while starving flies are attracted to it.
Ko et al. have built on the results of previous studies and now report that starving fruit flies are much less sensitive to unfavorable odors in high levels of vinegar and much more sensitive to favorable odors in low levels of vinegar. This behavior is due to two neuropeptides (molecules that carry signals between neurons) that have opposite effects on different parts of the fly's nervous system. One of the neuropeptides made the groups of neurons that respond to attractive odors more responsive, while the other suppressed the activity of neurons that normally respond to unpleasant odors. Together these changes could encourage the animals to take more risks when they are hungry, by suppressing of their ability to recognize noxious or harmful chemicals in favor of their ability to perceive attractive odors.
The effect of both neuropeptides is triggered by the insulin hormone, which carries information about the metabolic state (for example, whether it is starving or well-fed) throughout the whole animal. Thus, individual neurons may read the same metabolic signals and then respond in different ways to fine-tune the activity of nearby circuits of neurons to alter foraging behavior in a coordinated manner. Furthermore, it is almost certain that similar changes to the sensory system could affect an animal's appetite for food. One of the next challenges will be to attempt to understand if and how appetite in humans might be controlled in a similar way.
PMCID: PMC4531282  PMID: 26208339
olfaction; sNPF; insulin; RNA-seq; two-photon imaging; substance P; D. melanogaster
14.  Glomerular interactions in olfactory processing channels of the antennal lobes 
An open question in olfactory coding is the extent of interglomerular connectivity: do olfactory glomeruli and their neurons regulate the odorant responses of neurons innervating other glomeruli? In the olfactory system of the moth Manduca sexta, the response properties of different types of antennal olfactory receptor cells are known. Likewise, a subset of antennal lobe glomeruli has been functionally characterized and the olfactory tuning of their innervating neurons identified. This provides a unique opportunity to determine functional interactions between glomeruli of known input, specifically, (1) glomeruli processing plant odors and (2) glomeruli activated by antennal stimulation with pheromone components of conspecific females. Several studies describe reciprocal inhibitory effects between different types of pheromone-responsive projection neurons suggesting lateral inhibitory interactions between pheromone component-selective glomerular neural circuits. Furthermore, antennal lobe projection neurons that respond to host plant volatiles and innervate single, ordinary glomeruli are inhibited during antennal stimulation with the female’s sex pheromone. The studies demonstrate the existence of lateral inhibitory effects in response to behaviorally significant odorant stimuli and irrespective of glomerular location in the antennal lobe. Inhibitory interactions are present within and between olfactory subsystems (pheromonal and non-pheromonal subsystems), potentially to enhance contrast and strengthen odorant discrimination.
PMCID: PMC4066976  PMID: 23893248
Electrophysiology; Glomerulus; Neural coding; Olfaction; Pheromone
15.  Peripheral and Central Olfactory Tuning in a Moth 
Chemical Senses  2012;37(5):455-461.
Animals can be innately attracted to certain odorants. Because these attractants are particularly salient, they might be expected to induce relatively strong responses throughout the olfactory pathway, helping animals detect the most relevant odors but limiting flexibility to respond to other odors. Alternatively, specific neural wiring might link innately preferred odors to appropriate behaviors without a need for intensity biases. How nonpheromonal attractants are processed by the general olfactory system remains largely unknown. In the moth Manduca sexta, we studied this with a set of innately preferred host plant odors and other, neutral odors. Electroantennogram recordings showed that, as a population, olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) did not respond with greater intensity to host plant odors, and further local field potential recordings showed that no specific amplification of signals induced by host plant odors occurred between the first olfactory center and the second. Moreover, when odorants were mutually diluted to elicit equally intense output from the ORNs, moths were able to learn to associate all tested odorants equally well with food reward. Together, these results suggest that, although nonpheromonal host plant odors activate broadly distributed responses, they may be linked to attractive behaviors mainly through specific wiring in the brain.
PMCID: PMC3348173  PMID: 22362866
innate preference; insect; mushroom body; odor; olfactory learning; olfactory receptor neuron
16.  Unexpected plant odor responses in a moth pheromone system 
Male moths rely on olfactory cues to find females for reproduction. Males also use volatile plant compounds (VPCs) to find food sources and might use host-plant odor cues to identify the habitat of calling females. Both the sex pheromone released by conspecific females and VPCs trigger well-described oriented flight behavior toward the odor source. Whereas detection and central processing of pheromones and VPCs have been thought for a long time to be highly separated from each other, recent studies have shown that interactions of both types of odors occur already early at the periphery of the olfactory pathway. Here we show that detection and early processing of VPCs and pheromone can overlap between the two sub-systems. Using complementary approaches, i.e., single-sensillum recording of olfactory receptor neurons, in vivo calcium imaging in the antennal lobe, intracellular recordings of neurons in the macroglomerular complex (MGC) and flight tracking in a wind tunnel, we show that some plant odorants alone, such as heptanal, activate the pheromone-specific pathway in male Agrotis ipsilon at peripheral and central levels. To our knowledge, this is the first report of a plant odorant with no chemical similarity to the molecular structure of the pheromone, acting as a partial agonist of a moth sex pheromone.
PMCID: PMC4429231  PMID: 26029117
insect olfaction; sex pheromone; volatile plant compounds; interaction; olfactory receptor neuron; antennal lobe; central neuron
17.  Decoding odor quality and intensity in the Drosophila brain 
eLife  null;3:e04147.
To internally reflect the sensory environment, animals create neural maps encoding the external stimulus space. From that primary neural code relevant information has to be extracted for accurate navigation. We analyzed how different odor features such as hedonic valence and intensity are functionally integrated in the lateral horn (LH) of the vinegar fly, Drosophila melanogaster. We characterized an olfactory-processing pathway, comprised of inhibitory projection neurons (iPNs) that target the LH exclusively, at morphological, functional and behavioral levels. We demonstrate that iPNs are subdivided into two morphological groups encoding positive hedonic valence or intensity information and conveying these features into separate domains in the LH. Silencing iPNs severely diminished flies' attraction behavior. Moreover, functional imaging disclosed a LH region tuned to repulsive odors comprised exclusively of third-order neurons. We provide evidence for a feature-based map in the LH, and elucidate its role as the center for integrating behaviorally relevant olfactory information.
eLife digest
Organisms need to sense and adapt to their environment in order to survive. Senses such as vision and smell allow an organism to absorb information about the external environment and translate it into a meaningful internal image. This internal image helps the organism to remember incidents and act accordingly when they encounter similar situations again. A typical example is when organisms are repeatedly attracted to odors that are essential for survival, such as food and pheromones, and are repulsed by odors that threaten survival.
Strutz et al. addressed how attractiveness or repulsiveness of a smell, and also the strength of a smell, are processed by a part of the olfactory system called the lateral horn in fruit flies. This involved mapping the neuronal patterns that were generated in the lateral horn when a fly was exposed to particular odors.
Strutz et al. found that a subset of neurons called inhibitory projection neurons processes information about whether the odor is attractive or repulsive, and that a second subset of these neurons process information about the intensity of the odor. Other insects, such as honey bees and hawk moths, have olfactory systems with a similar architecture and might also employ a similar spatial approach to encode information regarding the intensity and identity of odors. Locusts, on the other hand, employ a temporal approach to encoding information about odors.
The work of Strutz et al. shows that certain qualities of odors are contained in a spatial map in a specific brain region of the fly. This opens up the question of how the information in this spatial map influences decisions made by the fly.
PMCID: PMC4270039  PMID: 25512254
olfaction; neural circuit; lateral horn; antennal lobe; odor processing; functional imaging; D. melanogaster
18.  Synchronous firing of antennal-lobe projection neurons encodes the behaviorally effective ratio of sex-pheromone components in male Manduca sexta 
Olfactory stimuli that are essential to an animal's survival and reproduction are often complex mixtures of volatile organic compounds in characteristic proportions. Here, we investigated how these proportions are encoded in the primary olfactory processing center, the antennal lobe (AL), of male Manduca sexta moths. Two key components of the female's sex pheromone, present in an approximately 2:1 ratio, are processed in each of two neighboring glomeruli in the macroglomerular complex (MGC) of males of this species. In wind-tunnel flight experiments, males exhibited behavioral selectivity for ratios approximating the ratio released by conspecific females. The ratio between components was poorly represented, however, in the firing-rate output of uniglomerular MGC projection neurons (PNs). PN firing rate was mostly insensitive to the ratio between components, and individual PNs did not exhibit a preference for a particular ratio. Recording simultaneously from pairs of PNs in the same glomerulus, we found that the natural ratio between components elicited the most synchronous spikes, and altering the proportion of either component decreased the proportion of synchronous spikes. The degree of synchronous firing between PNs in the same glomerulus thus selectively encodes the natural ratio that most effectively evokes the natural behavioral response to pheromone.
PMCID: PMC3840155  PMID: 24002682
Olfaction; Neural coding; Glomerulus; Pheromone; Neural synchrony
19.  Transcriptome and expression profiling analysis link patterns of gene expression to antennal responses in Spodoptera litura 
BMC Genomics  2015;16(1):269.
The study of olfaction is key to understanding the interaction of insects with their environment and provides opportunities to develop novel tactics for control of pest species. Recent developments in transcriptomic approaches enable the molecular basis of olfaction to be studied even in species with limited genomic information. Here we use transcriptome and expression profiling analysis to characterize the antennal transcriptome of the noctuid moth and polyphagous pest Spodoptera litura.
We identify 74 candidate genes involved in odor detection and recognition, encoding 26 ORs, 21 OBPs, 18 CSPs and 9 IRs. We examine their expression levels in both sexes and seek evidence for their function by relating their expression with levels of EAG response in male and female antennae to 58 host and non-host plant volatiles and sex pheromone components. The majority of olfactory genes showed sex-biased expression, usually male-biased in ORs. A link between OR gene expression and antennal responses to odors was evident, a third of the compounds tested evoking a sex-biased response, in every case also male-biased. Two candidate pheromone receptors, OR14 and OR23 were especially strongly expressed and male-biased and we suggest that these may respond to the two female sex pheromone components of S. litura, Z9E11-14:OAc and Z9E12-14:OAc, which evoked strongly male-biased EAG responses.
Our results provide the molecular basis for elucidating the olfactory profile of moths and the sexual divergence of their behavior and could enable the targeting of particular genes, and behaviors for pest management.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12864-015-1375-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4502548  PMID: 25887537
Olfactory receptor; RT-qPCR; Electroantennogram; Sex-biased expression; Sex pheromone; Plant volatiles
20.  Involvement of the G-Protein-Coupled Dopamine/Ecdysteroid Receptor DopEcR in the Behavioral Response to Sex Pheromone in an Insect 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e72785.
Most animals including insects rely on olfaction to find their mating partners. In moths, males are attracted by female-produced sex pheromones inducing stereotyped sexual behavior. The behaviorally relevant olfactory information is processed in the primary olfactory centre, the antennal lobe (AL). Evidence is now accumulating that modulation of sex-linked behavioral output occurs through neuronal plasticity via the action of hormones and/or catecholamines. A G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) binding to 20-hydroxyecdysone, the main insect steroid hormone, and dopamine, has been identified in Drosophila (DmDopEcR), and was suggested to modulate neuronal signaling. In the male moth Agrotis ipsilon, the behavioral and central nervous responses to pheromone are age-dependent. To further unveil the mechanisms of this olfactory plasticity, we searched for DopEcR and tested its potential role in the behavioral response to sex pheromone in A. ipsilon males. Our results show that A. ipsilon DopEcR (named AipsDopEcR) is predominantly expressed in the nervous system. The corresponding protein was detected immunohistochemically in the ALs and higher brain centers including the mushroom bodies. Moreover, AipsDopEcR expression increased with age. Using a strategy of RNA interference, we also show that silencing of AipsDopEcR inhibited the behavioral response to sex pheromone in wind tunnel experiments. Altogether our results indicate that this GPCR is involved in the expression of sexual behavior in the male moth, probably by modulating the central nervous processing of sex pheromone through the action of one or both of its ligands.
PMCID: PMC3762930  PMID: 24023771
21.  Effects of starvation on the olfactory responses of the blood-sucking bug Rhodnius prolixus 
Journal of insect physiology  2013;59(7):717-721.
Blood-sucking insects use olfactory cues in a variety of behavioral contexts, including host-seeking and aggregation. In triatomines, which are obligated blood-feeders, it has been shown that the response to CO2, a host-associated olfactory cue used almost universally by blood-sucking insects, is modulated by hunger. Host-finding is a particularly dangerous task for these insects, as their hosts are also their potential predators. Here we investigated whether olfactory responses to host-derived volatiles other than CO2 (nonanal, α-pinene and (−)-limonene), attractive odorant mixtures (yeast volatiles), and aggregation pheromones (present in feces) are also modulated by starvation in the blood-sucking bug Rhodnius prolixus. For this, the responses of both non-starved and starved insects were individually tested at the beginning of the scotophase using a dual-choice “T-shaped” olfactometer, in which one of its arms presented odor-laden air and the other arm presented odorless air. We found that the response of non-starved insects towards host-odorants and odorant mixtures was odor-dependent: insects preferred the odor-laden arm of the maze when tested with α-pinene, the odorless arm of the maze when tested with (−)-limonene, and distributed at random when tested with yeast volatiles or nonanal. In contrast, starved insects significantly preferred the odor-laden arm of the maze when tested with host-odorants or yeast volatiles. When tested with aggregation pheromones, non-starved insects distributed randomly between the arms of the maze, while starved insects preferred the odorless arm of the maze; insects that were even more starved (8–9 weeks post-ecdysis) significantly preferred the odor-laden arm of the maze. We postulate that this odor- and starvation-dependent modulation of sensory responses has a high adaptive value, as it minimizes the costs and risks associated with the associated behaviors. The possible physiological mechanisms underlying these modulatory effects are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3681923  PMID: 23619244
triatomine; Rhodnius prolixus; olfaction; behavior; sensory modulation
22.  Responses of protocerebral neurons in Manduca sexta to sex-pheromone mixtures 
Male Manduca sexta moths are attracted to a mixture of two components of the female's sex pheromone at the natural concentration ratio. Deviation from this ratio results in reduced attraction. Projection neurons innervating prominent male-specific glomeruli in the male's antennal lobe produce maximal synchronized spiking activity in response to synthetic mixtures of the two components centering around the natural ratio, suggesting that behaviorally effective mixture ratios are encoded by synchronous neuronal activity. We investigated the physiological activity and morphology of downstream protocerebral neurons that responded to antennal stimulation with single pheromone components and their mixtures at various concentration ratios. Among the tested neurons, only a few gave stronger responses to the mixture at the natural ratio whereas most did not distinguish among the mixtures that were tested. We also found that the population response distinguished among the two pheromone components and their mixtures, prior to the peak population response. This observation is consistent with our previous finding that synchronous firing of antennal-lobe projection neurons reaches its maximum before the firing rate reaches its peak. Moreover, the response patterns of protocerebral neurons are diverse, suggesting that the representation of olfactory stimuli at the level of protocerebrum is complex.
PMCID: PMC3805782  PMID: 23974854
moth; pheromone; mixture; ratio; protocerebrum
23.  Extracting the Behaviorally Relevant Stimulus: Unique Neural Representation of Farnesol, a Component of the Recruitment Pheromone of Bombus terrestris 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(9):e0137413.
To trigger innate behavior, sensory neural networks are pre-tuned to extract biologically relevant stimuli. Many male-female or insect-plant interactions depend on this phenomenon. Especially communication among individuals within social groups depends on innate behaviors. One example is the efficient recruitment of nest mates by successful bumblebee foragers. Returning foragers release a recruitment pheromone in the nest while they perform a ‘dance’ behavior to activate unemployed nest mates. A major component of this pheromone is the sesquiterpenoid farnesol. How farnesol is processed and perceived by the olfactory system, has not yet been identified. It is much likely that processing farnesol involves an innate mechanism for the extraction of relevant information to trigger a fast and reliable behavioral response. To test this hypothesis, we used population response analyses of 100 antennal lobe (AL) neurons recorded in alive bumblebee workers under repeated stimulation with four behaviorally different, but chemically related odorants (geraniol, citronellol, citronellal and farnesol). The analysis identified a unique neural representation of the recruitment pheromone component compared to the other odorants that are predominantly emitted by flowers. The farnesol induced population activity in the AL allowed a reliable separation of farnesol from all other chemically related odor stimuli we tested. We conclude that the farnesol induced population activity may reflect a predetermined representation within the AL-neural network allowing efficient and fast extraction of a behaviorally relevant stimulus. Furthermore, the results show that population response analyses of multiple single AL-units may provide a powerful tool to identify distinct representations of behaviorally relevant odors.
PMCID: PMC4560401  PMID: 26340263
24.  Peripheral Coding of Sex Pheromone Blends with Reverse Ratios in Two Helicoverpa Species 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e70078.
The relative proportions of components in a pheromone blend play a major role in sexual recognition in moths. Two sympatric species, Helicoverpa armigera and Helicoverpa assulta, use (Z)-11-hexadecenal (Z11–16: Ald) and (Z)-9-hexadecenal (Z9–16: Ald) as essential sex pheromone components but in very different ratios, 97∶3 and 7∶93 respectively. Using wind tunnel tests, single sensillum recording and in vivo calcium imaging, we comparatively studied behavioral responses and physiological activities at the level of antennal sensilla and antennal lobe (AL) in males of the two species to blends of the two pheromone components in different ratios (100∶0, 97∶3, 50∶50, 7∶93, 0∶100). Z11–16: Ald and Z9–16: Ald were recognized by two populations of olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) in different trichoid sensilla on antennae of both species. The ratios of OSNs responding to Z11–16:Ald and Z9–16:Ald OSNs were 100∶28.9 and 21.9∶100 in H. armigera and H. assulta, respectively. The Z11–16:Ald OSNs in H. armigera exhibited higher sensitivity and efficacy than those in H. assulta, while the Z9–16:Ald OSNs in H. armigera had the same sensitivity but lower efficacy than those in H. assulta. At the dosage of 10 µg, Z11–16: Ald and Z9–16: Ald evoked calcium activity in 8.5% and 3.0% of the AL surface in H. armigera, while 5.4% and 8.6% of AL in H. assulta, respectively. The calcium activities in the AL reflected the peripheral input signals of the binary pheromone mixtures and correlated with the behavioral output. These results demonstrate that the binary pheromone blends were precisely coded by the firing frequency of individual OSNs tuned to Z11–16: Ald or Z9–16: Ald, as well as their population sizes. Such information was then accurately reported to ALs of H. armigera and H. assulta, eventually producing different behaviors.
PMCID: PMC3720945  PMID: 23894593
25.  Complex and non-redundant signals from individual odor receptors that underlie chemotaxis behavior in Drosophila melanogaster larvae 
Biology Open  2014;3(10):947-957.
The rules by which odor receptors encode odors and allow behavior are still largely unexplored. Although large data sets of electrophysiological responses of receptors to odors have been generated, few hypotheses have been tested with behavioral assays. We use a data set on odor responses of Drosophila larval odor receptors coupled with chemotaxis behavioral assays to examine rules of odor coding. Using mutants of odor receptors, we have found that odor receptors with similar electrophysiological responses to odors across concentrations play non-redundant roles in odor coding at specific odor concentrations. We have also found that high affinity receptors for odors determine behavioral response thresholds, but the rules for determining peak behavioral responses are more complex. While receptor mutants typically show loss of attraction to odors, some receptor mutants result in increased attraction at specific odor concentrations. The odor receptor mutants were rescued using transgenic expression of odor receptors, validating assignment of phenotypes to the alleles. Vapor pressures alone cannot fully explain behavior in our assay. Finally, some odors that did not elicit strong electrophysiological responses are associated with behavioral phenotypes upon examination of odor receptor mutants. This result is consistent with the role of sensory neurons in lateral inhibition via local interneurons in the antennal lobe. Taken together, our results suggest a complexity of odor coding rules even in a simple olfactory sensory system.
PMCID: PMC4197443  PMID: 25238759
Odor receptors; Olfaction; Drosophila; Or42a; Or42b

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