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.
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.
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.
pheromone detection; antennal lobe; pheromone receptor; pheromone binding protein; olfaction
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
standard brain atlas; antennal-lobe projection neurons; lateral horn; antennal-lobe glomeruli; macroglomerular
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.
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.
insect; silkmoth; olfaction; sex pheromone; pheromone-source searching behavior
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.
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.
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.
insect olfaction; second messengers; octopamine; circadian rhythms; signal transduction cascades; field potentials; subthreshold membrane potential oscillations; temporal encoding
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.
innate preference; insect; mushroom body; odor; olfactory learning; olfactory receptor neuron
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.
Electrophysiology; Glomerulus; Neural coding; Olfaction; Pheromone
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.
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.
olfaction; neural circuit; lateral horn; antennal lobe; odor processing; functional imaging; D. melanogaster
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.
Olfaction; Neural coding; Glomerulus; Pheromone; Neural synchrony
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.
triatomine; Rhodnius prolixus; olfaction; behavior; sensory modulation
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.
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.
moth; pheromone; mixture; ratio; protocerebrum
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.
Odor receptors; Olfaction; Drosophila; Or42a; Or42b
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.
In plants, pollinator adaptation is considered to be a major driving force for floral diversification and speciation. However, the genetic basis of pollinator adaptation is poorly understood. The orchid genus Ophrys mimics its pollinators' mating signals and is pollinated by male insects during mating attempts. In many species of this genus, chemical mimicry of the pollinators' pheromones, especially of alkenes with different double-bond positions, plays a key role for specific pollinator attraction. Thus, different alkenes produced in different species are probably a consequence of pollinator adaptation. In this study, we identify genes that are likely involved in alkene biosynthesis, encoding stearoyl-acyl carrier protein (ACP) desaturases (SAD), in three closely related Ophrys species, O. garganica, O. sphegodes, and O. exaltata. Combining floral odor and gene expression analyses, two SAD homologs (SAD1/2) showed significant association with the production of (Z)-9- and (Z)-12-alkenes that were abundant in O. garganica and O. sphegodes, supporting previous biochemical data. In contrast, two other newly identified homologs (SAD5/6) were significantly associated with (Z)-7-alkenes that were highly abundant only in O. exaltata. Both molecular evolutionary analyses and pollinator preference tests suggest that the alkenes associated with SAD1/2 and SAD5/6 are under pollinator-mediated divergent selection among species. The expression patterns of these genes in F1 hybrids indicate that species-specific expression differences in SAD1/2 are likely due to cis-regulation, while changes in SAD5/6 are likely due to trans-regulation. Taken together, we report a genetic mechanism for pollinator-mediated divergent selection that drives adaptive changes in floral alkene biosynthesis involved in reproductive isolation among Ophrys species.
In plants, the extraordinary floral diversity has been suggested to be a consequence of divergent adaptation. However, the genetic basis of this process is poorly understood. In this study, we take advantage of the high specificity of plant-pollinator interactions in the sexually deceptive orchid genus Ophrys. We leverage the available, ample evidence showing that floral odors, especially alkenes, are the key factor for specific pollinator attraction in certain species of these orchids. Further, we investigate the genetic basis of pollinator adaptation. By applying an inter-disciplinary approach, including chemical ecology, gene expression analysis, population genetics, and pollinator-behavioral tests, we show that genetic changes in different copies of a biosynthetic gene are associated with the production of different floral scents and with pollinator adaptation in these orchid species. Moreover, we found that both cis- and trans-regulatory factors are likely involved in controlling gene expression of these biosynthetic gene copies. These findings support the hypothesis that adaptation is mediated by very few genetic changes with large phenotypic effects, rather than requiring a large number of co-adapted genes.
In either the vertebrate nose or the insect antenna, most olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) respond to multiple odors. However, some ORNs respond to just a single odor, or at most to a few highly related odors. It has been hypothesized that narrowly-tuned ORNs project to narrowly-tuned neurons in the brain, and that these dedicated circuits mediate innate behavioral responses to a particular ligand. Here we have investigated neural activity and behavior downstream from two narrowly-tuned ORN types in Drosophila. We found that genetically ablating either of these ORN types impairs innate behavioral attraction to their cognate ligand. Neurons in the antennal lobe postsynaptic to one of these ORN types are, like their presynaptic ORNs, narrowly tuned to a pheromone. However, neurons postsynaptic to the second ORN type are broadly tuned. These results demonstrate that some narrowly-tuned ORNs project to dedicated central circuits, ensuring a tight connection between stimulus and behavior, whereas others project to central neurons which participate in the ensemble representations of many odors.
Experience related plasticity is an essential component of networks involved in early olfactory processing. However, the mechanisms and functions of plasticity in these neural networks are not well understood. We studied nonassociative plasticity by evaluating responses to two pure odors (A and X) and their binary mixture using calcium imaging of odor elicited activity in output neurons of the honey bee antennal lobe. Unreinforced exposure to A or X produced no change in the neural response elicited by the pure odors. However, exposure to one odor (e.g. A) caused the response to the mixture to become more similar to the other component (X). We also show in behavioral analyses that unreinforced exposure to A caused the mixture to become perceptually more similar to X. These results suggest that nonassociative plasticity modifies neural networks in such a way that it affects local competitive interactions among mixture components. We used a computational model to evaluate the most likely targets for modification. Hebbian modification of synapses from inhibitory local interneurons to projection neurons most reliably produces the observed shift in response to the mixture. These results are consistent with a model in which the antennal lobe acts to filter olfactory information according to its relevance for performing a particular task.
Olfaction; learning; antennal lobe; plasticity; Apis mellifera
Pheromones are used for conspecific communication by many animals. In Drosophila, the volatile male-specific pheromone 11-cis vaccenyl acetate (cVA) supplies an important signal for gender recognition. Sensing of cVA by the olfactory system depends on multiple components, including an olfactory receptor (OR67d), the co-receptor ORCO, and an odorant binding protein (LUSH). In addition, a CD36 related protein, sensory neuron membrane protein 1 (SNMP1) is also involved in cVA detection. Loss of SNMP1 has been reported to eliminate cVA responsiveness, and to greatly increase spontaneous activity of OR67d-expressing olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs). Here, we found the snmp11 mutation did not abolish cVA responsiveness or cause high spontaneous activity. The cVA responses in snmp1 mutants displayed a delayed onset, and took longer to reach peak activity than wild-type. Most strikingly, loss of SNMP1 caused a dramatic delay in signal termination. The profound impairment in signal inactivation accounted for the previously reported “spontaneous activity,” which represented continuous activation following transient exposure to environmental cVA. We introduced the silk moth receptor (BmOR1) in OR67d ORNs of snmp11 flies and found that the ORNs showed slow activation and deactivation kinetics in response to the BmOR1 ligand (bombykol). We expressed the bombykol receptor complex in Xenopus oocytes in the presence or absence of the silk moth SNMP1 (BmSNMP) and found that addition of BmSNMP accelerated receptor activation and deactivation. Our results thus clarify SNMP1 as an important player required for the rapid kinetics of the pheromone response in insects.
Pheromones are chemicals produced and released by animals for social communication with other members of their species. For example, male fruit flies produce a volatile pheromone that is sensed by both males and females, and which functions in gender recognition. This volatile male pheromone, called 11-cis vaccenyl acetate, is detected by olfactory neurons housed in hair-like appendages on the insect antenna. To effectively sense the pheromone, especially during navigation, the olfactory neurons must respond rapidly, and then quickly inactivate after the stimulation ceases. We found that a CD36-related protein referred to as sensory neuron membrane protein 1 (SNMP1) was required by olfactory neurons for the rapid on and off responses to 11-cis vaccenyl acetate. Loss of SNMP1 reduced the initial sensitivity to the pheromone, and then caused a strikingly slower termination of the response after removal of the pheromone. Our findings demonstrate that SNMP1 is a critical player that allows olfactory neurons to achieve sensitive and rapid on and off responses to a pheromone that is critical for social interactions in insects.
Sensory and cognitive performance decline with age. Neural dysfunction caused by nerve death in senile dementia and neurodegenerative disease has been intensively studied; however, functional changes in neural circuits during the normal aging process are not well understood. Caspases are key regulators of cell death, a hallmark of age-related neurodegeneration. Using a genetic probe for caspase-3-like activity (DEVDase activity), we have mapped age-dependent neuronal changes in the adult brain throughout the lifespan of Drosophila. Spatio-temporally restricted caspase activation was observed in the antennal lobe and ellipsoid body, brain structures required for olfaction and visual place memory, respectively. We also found that caspase was activated in an age-dependent manner in specific subsets of Drosophila olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs), Or42b and Or92a neurons. These neurons are essential for mediating innate attraction to food-related odors. Furthermore, age-induced impairments of neural transmission and attraction behavior could be reversed by specific inhibition of caspase in these ORNs, indicating that caspase activation in Or42b and Or92a neurons is responsible for altering animal behavior during normal aging.
The approaching era of an “aging society” is receiving considerable attention amongst biomedical researchers in advanced nations. In order to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying age-related alterations of neural circuitry, we focused on caspase-3, a cysteine protease that induces apoptotic cell death, using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, a model often used to study aging due to a short lifespan of approximately 30–60 days. Here, we describe the spatiotemporal activation of caspase-3 in aged fly brains and show that caspase-3 is specifically activated in select olfactory neurons essential for innate odor attraction behavior. Furthermore, we discuss how inhibition of caspase-3 activation in those select olfactory neurons can rejuvenate the sensitivity of innate attraction behavior in aged flies. These findings suggest that caspase-3 plays an active role in producing age-related alterations to neuronal physiology and circuit function associated with animal behavior.