By genetically manipulating both pheromonal profiles and behavioral patterns, we find that Drosophila males showed a complete reversal in their patterns of aggression towards other males and females
Appropriate displays of aggression rely on the ability to recognize potential competitors. As in most species, Drosophila males fight with other males and do not attack females. In insects, sex recognition is strongly dependent on chemosensory communication, mediated by cuticular hydrocarbons acting as pheromones. While the roles of chemical and other sensory cues in stimulating male to female courtship have been well characterized in Drosophila, the signals that elicit aggression remain unclear. Here we show that when female pheromones or behavior are masculinized, males recognize females as competitors and switch from courtship to aggression. To masculinize female pheromones, a transgene carrying dsRNA for the sex determination factor transformer (traIR) was targeted to the pheromone producing cells, the oenocytes. Shortly after copulation males attacked these females, indicating that pheromonal cues can override other sensory cues. Surprisingly, masculinization of female behavior by targeting traIR to the nervous system in an otherwise normal female also was sufficient to trigger male aggression. Simultaneous masculinization of both pheromones and behavior induced a complete switch in the normal male response to a female. Control males now fought rather than copulated with these females. In a reciprocal experiment, feminization of the oenocytes and nervous system in males by expression of transformer (traF) elicited high levels of courtship and little or no aggression from control males. Finally, when confronted with flies devoid of pheromones, control males attacked male but not female opponents, suggesting that aggression is not a default behavior in the absence of pheromonal cues. Thus, our results show that masculinization of either pheromones or behavior in females is sufficient to trigger male-to-female aggression. Moreover, by manipulating both the pheromonal profile and the fighting patterns displayed by the opponent, male behavioral responses towards males and females can be completely reversed. Therefore, both pheromonal and behavioral cues are used by Drosophila males in recognizing a conspecific as a competitor.
As in other species, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster uses chemical signals in the form of pheromones to recognize the species and sex of another individual. Males typically fight with other males and do not attack females. While the roles of pheromonal and other sensory cues in stimulating courtship towards females have been extensively studied, the signals that elicit aggression towards other males remain unclear. In this work, we use genetic tools to show that masculinization of female pheromones is sufficient to trigger aggression from wild type males towards females. Surprisingly, males also attacked females that displayed male patterns of aggression, even if they show normal female pheromonal profiles, indicating that pheromones are not the only cues important for identifying another animal as an opponent. By simultaneously manipulating pheromones and behavioral patterns of opponents, we can completely switch the behavioral response of males towards females and males. These results demonstrate that not only pheromonal but also behavioral cues can serve as triggers of aggression, underlining the importance of behavioral feedback in the manifestation of social behaviors.
As in many species, gustatory pheromones regulate the mating behavior of Drosophila. Recently, several ppk genes, encoding ion channel subunits of the DEG/ENaC family, have been implicated in this process, leading to the identification of gustatory neurons that detect specific pheromones. In a subset of taste hairs on the legs of Drosophila, there are two ppk23-expressing, pheromone-sensing neurons with complementary response profiles; one neuron detects female pheromones that stimulate male courtship, the other detects male pheromones that inhibit male-male courtship. In contrast to ppk23, ppk25, is only expressed in a single gustatory neuron per taste hair, and males with impaired ppk25 function court females at reduced rates but do not display abnormal courtship of other males. These findings raised the possibility that ppk25 expression defines a subset of pheromone-sensing neurons. Here we show that ppk25 is expressed and functions in neurons that detect female-specific pheromones and mediates their stimulatory effect on male courtship. Furthermore, the role of ppk25 and ppk25-expressing neurons is not restricted to responses to female-specific pheromones. ppk25 is also required in the same subset of neurons for stimulation of male courtship by young males, males of the Tai2 strain, and by synthetic 7-pentacosene (7-P), a hydrocarbon normally found at low levels in both males and females. Finally, we unexpectedly find that, in females, ppk25 and ppk25-expressing cells regulate receptivity to mating. In the absence of the third antennal segment, which has both olfactory and auditory functions, mutations in ppk25 or silencing of ppk25-expressing neurons block female receptivity to males. Together these results indicate that ppk25 identifies a functionally specialized subset of pheromone-sensing neurons. While ppk25 neurons are required for the responses to multiple pheromones, in both males and females these neurons are specifically involved in stimulating courtship and mating.
Drosophila mating behaviors serve as an attractive model to understand how external sensory cues are detected and used to generate appropriate behavioral responses. Pheromones present on the cuticle of Drosophila have important roles in stimulating male courtship toward females and inhibiting male courtship directed at other males. Recently, stimulatory pheromones emitted by females and inhibitory pheromones emitted by males have been shown to stimulate distinct subsets of gustatory neurons on the legs. We have previously shown that a DEG/ENaC ion channel subunit, ppk25, is involved in male courtship toward females but not in inhibition of male-male courtship. Here we show that ppk25 is specifically expressed and functions in a subset of gustatory neurons that mediate physiological and behavioral responses to female-specific stimulatory pheromones. Furthermore, ppk25 is also required for the function of those neurons to activate male courtship in response to other pheromones that are not female-specific. In addition to their roles in males, we find that ppk25, and the related DEG/ENaC subunits ppk23 and ppk29, also stimulate female mating behavior. In conclusion, these results show that, in both sexes, ppk25 functions in a group of neurons with a specialized role in stimulating mating behaviors.
Gustatory pheromones play an essential role in shaping the behavior of many organisms. However, little is known about the processing of taste pheromones in higher order brain centers. Here, we describe a male-specific gustatory circuit in Drosophila that underlies the detection of the anti-aphrodisiac pheromone (3R,11Z,19Z)-3-acetoxy-11,19-octacosadien-1-ol (CH503). Using behavioral analysis, genetic manipulation, and live calcium imaging, we show that Gr68a-expressing neurons on the forelegs of male flies exhibit a sexually dimorphic physiological response to the pheromone and relay information to the central brain via peptidergic neurons. The release of tachykinin from 8 to 10 cells within the subesophageal zone is required for the pheromone-triggered courtship suppression. Taken together, this work describes a neuropeptide-modulated central brain circuit that underlies the programmed behavioral response to a gustatory sex pheromone. These results will allow further examination of the molecular basis by which innate behaviors are modulated by gustatory cues and physiological state.
In many species of animals, the male decides to pursue a potential female mate based on how she smells and tastes. Powerful chemical signals known as pheromones control this decision. When a male fruit fly mates with a female fruit fly, he often leaves behind an anti-aphrodisiac pheromone that, when males taste it, deters them from mating with the female. Until recently, however, little was known about how the brain processes information from such taste pheromones.
Now, Shankar et al. have investigated this problem in a series of experiments with normal and genetically modified flies. In the first experiment normal male flies were exposed to the chemical on its own, to the chemical on a sample of female skin, and to the chemical on actual female flies. The male flies did not respond to the pheromone on its own, but they did respond to it in the other two scenarios.
Next, Shankar et al. used genetic techniques to eliminate individual neurons in the male flies and then observed how the loss of specific neurons influenced the response of the fly to the pheromone. These experiments showed that male flies have a special group of sensory neurons in their legs that detect the chemical and then send an electrical signal to the brain. Shankar et al. then went on to identify a brain circuit consisting of 8–10 neurons that responds to this signal and to show that the release of a neurochemical called Tachykinin is essential in communicating the signal.
In a final set of experiments, Shankar et al. introduced two sensors—one in the sensory neurons in the legs, the other in the 8–10 neurons in the brain—that light up when the neurons in that region are close enough to each other to form connections. The results suggest that the sensory neurons in the legs form connections with the 8–10 neurons in the brain.
A challenge for the future is to understand how the nervous system combines different social cues and information about the physiological state of the animal, and how this influences the decision to mate.
CH503; courtship; behavior; anti-aphrodisiac; NPF; calcium imaging; D. melanogaster
The mammalian vomeronasal organ encodes pheromone information about gender, reproductive status, genetic background and individual differences. It remains unknown how pheromone information interacts to trigger innate behaviors. In this study, we identify vomeronasal receptors responsible for detecting female pheromones. A sub-group of V1re clade members recognizes gender-identifying cues in female urine. Multiple members of the V1rj clade are cognate receptors for urinary estrus signals, as well as for sulfated estrogen (SE) compounds. In both cases, the same cue activates multiple homologous receptors, suggesting redundancy in encoding female pheromone cues. Neither gender-specific cues nor SEs alone are sufficient to promote courtship behavior in male mice, whereas robust courtship behavior can be induced when the two cues are applied together. Thus, integrated action of different female cues is required in pheromone-triggered mating behavior. These results suggest a gating mechanism in the vomeronasal circuit in promoting specific innate behavior.
Pheromones are chemicals that are given off by living things and they lead to a range of social responses in others of the same species. These chemical signals, for example, can let an animal know when a suitable mate is near and trigger the release of hormones that encourage the animal to mate.
In mammals, an organ found between the roof of the mouth and the nose detects pheromones. This organ contains more than 300 different receptors for these chemicals. However, only a few of these receptors have been matched with the pheromones that they detect. One example is a chemical released by male mice that interacts with a specific nasal receptor and causes a female mouse to arch her back in a way that signals she is ready to mate.
One reason that more pheromone-receptor pairs are not known is that pheromones are released in very small quantities, which makes them hard to detect. In an effort to identify more pairs, Haga-Yamanaka et al. took tissue slices from the organ that detects pheromones in mice and then looked for cells that responded to the urine of female mice. Two previously unknown pheromone-receptor pairs were found. One helps male mice detect when a female is present, while the other lets him know if she is ready to mate. Together these two chemicals alert a male mouse to a potential mate and cause him to mount her in order to mate. However, neither chemical is able to trigger this male courtship behavior on its own.
The techniques developed by Haga-Yamanaka et al. may, in the future, help identify more pheromone-receptor pairs. The next challenge will be to identify the pathways of nerve cells that integrate the information about pheromones and trigger the courtship behaviors.
olfactory; vomeronasal; pheromone; innate behavior; GCaMP; imaging; mouse
Many aspects of social behavior are controlled by sex-specific pheromones. Gender-appropriate production of the sexually dimorphic transcription factors doublesex and fruitless controls sexual differentiation and sexual behavior. miR-124 mutant males exhibited increased male–male courtship and reduced reproductive success with females. Females showed a strong preference for wild-type males over miR-124 mutant males when given a choice of mates. These effects were traced to aberrant pheromone production. We identified the sex-specific splicing factor transformer as a functionally significant target of miR-124 in this context, suggesting a role for miR-124 in the control of male sexual differentiation and behavior, by limiting inappropriate expression of the female form of transformer. miR-124 is required to ensure fidelity of gender-appropriate pheromone production in males. Use of a microRNA provides a secondary means of controlling the cascade of sex-specific splicing events that controls sexual differentiation in Drosophila.
Like many animals, the fruit fly Drosophila uses pheromones to influence sexual behaviour, with males and females producing different versions of these chemicals. One of the pheromones produced by male flies, for example, is a chemical called 11-cis-vaccenyl-acetate (cVA), which is an aphrodisiac for female flies and an anti-aphrodisiac for males.
The production of the correct pheromones in each sex is genetically controlled using a process called splicing that allows a single gene to be expressed as two or more different proteins. A variety of proteins called splicing factors ensures that splicing results in the production of the correct pheromones for each sex. Sometimes, however, the process by which sex genes are expressed as proteins can be ‘leaky’, which results in the wrong proteins being produced for one or both sexes.
Small RNA molecules called microRNAs act in some genetic pathways to limit the leaky expression of genes, and a microRNA called miR-124 carries out this function in the developing brain Drosophila. Now, Weng et al. show that miR-124 also helps to regulate sex-specific splicing and thereby to control pheromone production and sexual behaviour.
Mutant male flies lacking miR-124 were less successful than wild-type males at mating with female flies, and were almost always rejected if a female fly was given a choice between a mutant male and a wild-type male. Moreover, both wild-type and mutant male flies were more likely to initiate courtship behaviour towards another male if it lacked miR-124 than if it did not.
The mutant male flies produced less cVA than wild-type males, but more of other pheromones called pentacosenes, which is consistent with the observed behaviour because cVA attracts females and repels males, whereas pentacosenes act as aphrodisiacs for male flies in large amounts. Weng et al. showed that these changes in the production of pheromones were caused by an increased expression of the female version of a splicing factor called transformer in the mutant males, but further work is needed to understand this process in detail.
microRNA; pheromome; behaviour; genetics; selection; evolution; D. melanogaster
Rapid evolution of gene expression patterns responsible for pheromone production in 24 species of Drosophila was mapped to simple mutations within the regulatory domain of the desatF gene.
A wide range of organisms use sex pheromones to communicate with each other and to identify appropriate mating partners. While the evolution of chemical communication has been suggested to cause sexual isolation and speciation, the mechanisms that govern evolutionary transitions in sex pheromone production are poorly understood. Here, we decipher the molecular mechanisms underlying the rapid evolution in the expression of a gene involved in sex pheromone production in Drosophilid flies. Long-chain cuticular hydrocarbons (e.g., dienes) are produced female-specifically, notably via the activity of the desaturase DESAT-F, and are potent pheromones for male courtship behavior in Drosophila melanogaster. We show that across the genus Drosophila, the expression of this enzyme is correlated with long-chain diene production and has undergone an extraordinary number of evolutionary transitions, including six independent gene inactivations, three losses of expression without gene loss, and two transitions in sex-specificity. Furthermore, we show that evolutionary transitions from monomorphism to dimorphism (and its reversion) in desatF expression involved the gain (and the inactivation) of a binding-site for the sex-determination transcription factor, DOUBLESEX. In addition, we documented a surprising example of the gain of particular cis-regulatory motifs of the desatF locus via a set of small deletions. Together, our results suggest that frequent changes in the expression of pheromone-producing enzymes underlie evolutionary transitions in chemical communication, and reflect changing regimes of sexual selection, which may have contributed to speciation among Drosophila.
Mate selection is a complex process involving communication between potential partners on many levels, such as visual, aural, and olfactory cues. Many animals use chemical signals in the form of pheromones to communicate and correctly recognize individuals of the appropriate species and sex during reproduction. Evolutionary changes in the production of these chemicals have been suggested to contribute to speciation. Yet, the molecular mechanisms governing these transitions have seldom been addressed. Here, we show that expression of the gene desatF, which encodes an enzyme involved in the production of the Drosophila pheromones known as dienes, is highly variable and rapidly evolving across Drosophila species. Changes in desatF gene expression correlate with changes in sex- and species-specific production of dienes. Further, these changes in diene production can be explained by simple modifications in the regulatory regions of the desatF gene, providing a molecular level understanding of the evolution of pheromone production in Drosophila.
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.
Pheromones play an important role in the behavior, ecology, and evolution of many organisms. The structure of many insect pheromones typically consists of a hydrocarbon backbone, occasionally modified with various functional oxygen groups. Here we show that sex-specific triacylclyerides (TAGs) are broadly conserved across the subgenus Drosophila in 11 species and represent a novel class of pheromones that has been largely overlooked. In desert-adapted drosophilids, 13 different TAGs are secreted exclusively by males from the ejaculatory bulb, transferred to females during mating, and function synergistically to inhibit courtship from other males. Sex-specific TAGs are comprised of at least one short branched tiglic acid and a long linear fatty acyl component, an unusual structural motif that has not been reported before in other natural products. The diversification of chemical cues used by desert-adapted Drosophila as pheromones may be related to their specialized diet of fermenting cacti.
For animals, the ultimate purpose of life is to have sex, as nothing is more important than passing down your genes to future generations. A wide range of strategies are therefore employed throughout nature to maximize the chances of sexual success, from ostentatious courtship rituals to the subtle subliminal signals sent out using chemicals called pheromones. Plants and animals release pheromones to influence the behavior of other plants and animals, often without the recipient being aware of it.
Hundreds of different insect pheromones have been discovered. Fruit flies release a number of different pheromones, all with similar chemical structures. Now, Chin et al. have discovered that male flies belonging to several species of fruit fly that live in the desert release chemicals called triacylglycerides (TAGs), which are commonly used for energy storage by many organisms as pheromones. During sex, the male fly rubs the TAGs onto the body of the female, which makes her less attractive to other male flies for several hours, thus increasing his chances of parenthood and passing his genes to future generations.
TAGs are also found in other insect species, but have been largely overlooked as pheromones. Moreover, the TAGs discovered by Chin et al. have an unusual structure, not previously seen in nature, which may result from the diet of fermenting cacti the desert-dwelling fruit flies enjoy.
ozone-induced dissociation; mass spectrometry; behavior; D. arizonae; D. mojavensis; laser desorption ionzation; D. melanogaster
In social groups, dominant individuals may socially inhibit reproduction of subordinates using aggressive interactions or, in the case of highly eusocial insects, pheromonal communication. It has been hypothesized these two modes of reproductive inhibition utilize conserved pathways. Here, we use a comparative framework to investigate the chemical and genomic underpinnings of reproductive dominance in the primitively eusocial wasp Polistes metricus. Our goals were to first characterize transcriptomic and chemical correlates of reproductive dominance and second, to test whether dominance-associated mechanisms in paper wasps overlapped with aggression or pheromone-related gene expression patterns in other species. To explore whether conserved molecular pathways relate to dominance, we compared wasp transcriptomic data to previous studies of gene expression associated with pheromonal communication and queen-worker differences in honey bees, and aggressive behavior in bees, Drosophila, and mice.
By examining dominant and subordinate females from queen and worker castes in early and late season colonies, we found that cuticular hydrocarbon profiles and genome-wide patterns of brain gene expression were primarily associated with season/social environment rather than dominance status. In contrast, gene expression patterns in the ovaries were associated primarily with caste and ovary activation. Comparative analyses suggest genes identified as differentially expressed in wasp brains are not related to queen pheromonal communication or caste in bees, but were significantly more likely to be associated with aggression in other insects (bees, flies), and even a mammal (mice).
This study provides the first comprehensive chemical and molecular analysis of reproductive dominance in paper wasps. We found little evidence for a chemical basis for reproductive dominance in P. metricus, and our transcriptomic analyses suggest that different pathways regulate dominance in paper wasps and pheromone response in bees. Furthermore, there was a substantial impact of season/social environment on gene expression patterns, indicating the important role of external cues in shaping the molecular processes regulating behavior. Interestingly, genes associated with dominance in wasps were also associated with aggressive behavior in bees, solitary insects and mammals. Thus, genes involved in social regulation of reproduction in Polistes may have conserved functions associated with aggression in insects and other taxa.
Wasps; Social behavior; Genomics; Aggression; Pheromones; Chemical communication
Reproductive behavior in Drosophila has both stereotyped and plastic components that are driven by age- and sex-specific chemical cues. Males who unsuccessfully court virgin females subsequently avoid females that are of the same age as the trainer. In contrast, males trained with mature mated females associate volatile appetitive and aversive pheromonal cues and learn to suppress courtship of all females. Here we show that the volatile aversive pheromone that leads to generalized learning with mated females is (Z)-11-octadecenyl acetate (cis-vaccenyl acetate, cVA). cVA is a major component of the male cuticular hydrocarbon profile, but it is not found on virgin females. During copulation, cVA is transferred to the female in ejaculate along with sperm and peptides that decrease her sexual receptivity. When males sense cVA (either synthetic or from mated female or male extracts) in the context of female pheromone, they develop a generalized suppression of courtship. The effects of cVA on initial courtship of virgin females can be blocked by expression of tetanus toxin in Or65a, but not Or67d neurons, demonstrating that the aversive effects of this pheromone are mediated by a specific class of olfactory neuron. These findings suggest that transfer of cVA to females during mating may be part of the male’s strategy to suppress reproduction by competing males.
Learning and memory; olfaction; Drosophila; pheromones; cis-vaccenyl acetate
Pheromones, chemical signals that convey social information, mediate many insect social behaviors, including navigation and aggregation. Several studies have suggested that behavior during the immature larval stages of Drosophila development is influenced by pheromones, but none of these compounds or the pheromone-receptor neurons that sense them have been identified. Here we report a larval pheromone-signaling pathway. We found that larvae produce two novel long-chain fatty acids that are attractive to other larvae. We identified a single larval chemosensory neuron that detects these molecules. Two members of the pickpocket family of DEG/ENaC channel subunits (ppk23 and ppk29) are required to respond to these pheromones. This pheromone system is evolving quickly, since the larval exudates of D. simulans, the sister species of D. melanogaster, are not attractive to other larvae. Our results define a new pheromone signaling system in Drosophila that shares characteristics with pheromone systems in a wide diversity of insects.
The release of chemical signals called pheromones is a common tactic used by animals in many social situations, such as to attract potential mates or to follow trails left by other members of their colony. Larvae of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster—a species commonly studied in the laboratory—gather together when sharing a food source and then cooperate in a way that may increase how efficiently they feed. It has been proposed that pheromones coordinate this behavior, but no larval pheromones had been identified.
Mast et al. noticed that Drosophila larvae crawling on a surface tended to occupy areas where other larvae had crawled before. This suggested that larvae had left attractive chemicals on the surface. Mast et al. identified two such substances by analyzing the chemicals left on the surface and then by testing the response of larvae to each compound.
Ultimately, Mast et al. found that a single sensory neuron in the larva is responsible for detecting these attractive chemical signals. Furthermore, two genes called pickpocket23 and pickpocket29 control this response. These genes were previously known for their roles in detecting sex pheromones, and they are members of a diverse family of calcium channel subunits that are involved in detecting multiple ‘sensory modalities’ such as touch and taste. When either pickpocket23 or pickpocket29 are inactivated, larvae ignore the social cues left by their neighbors.
Mast et al. also looked for an evolutionary role for these pheromones. Larvae of a closely related fly species called Drosophila simulans produce a subtly different blend of compounds to D. melanogaster, and this blend is not attractive to any of the species tested. While Drosophila simulans larvae were not attracted to the cues left by their own species, they were attracted to the pheromones produced by Drosophila melanogaster, indicating that they retain the sensory mechanisms to detect and respond to these pheromones. These results suggest that larvae experience a rapidly evolving, complex, pheromone-rich environment that may help them tailor their behavior to survive.
Drosophila sechellia; Drosophila simulans; pheromone; pheromone receptor; evolution; social behavior; D. melanogaster
Pheromonal communication is crucial with regard to mate choice in many animals including insects. Drosophila melanogaster flies produce a pheromonal bouquet with many cuticular hydrocarbons some of which diverge between the sexes and differently affect male courtship behavior. Cuticular pheromones have a relatively high weight and are thought to be — mostly but not only — detected by gustatory contact. However, the response of the peripheral and central gustatory systems to these substances remains poorly explored. We measured the effect induced by pheromonal cuticular mixtures on (i) the electrophysiological response of peripheral gustatory receptor neurons, (ii) the calcium variation in brain centers receiving these gustatory inputs and (iii) the behavioral reaction induced in control males and in mutant desat1 males, which show abnormal pheromone production and perception. While male and female pheromones induced inhibitory-like effects on taste receptor neurons, the contact of male pheromones on male fore-tarsi elicits a long-lasting response of higher intensity in the dedicated gustatory brain center. We found that the behavior of control males was more strongly inhibited by male pheromones than by female pheromones, but this difference disappeared in anosmic males. Mutant desat1 males showed an increased sensitivity of their peripheral gustatory neurons to contact pheromones and a behavioral incapacity to discriminate sex pheromones. Together our data indicate that cuticular hydrocarbons induce long-lasting inhibitory effects on the relevant taste pathway which may interact with the olfactory pathway to modulate pheromonal perception.
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.
insect olfaction; sex pheromone; volatile plant compounds; interaction; olfactory receptor neuron; antennal lobe; central neuron
Interest in sex pheromones has mainly been focused on mate finding, while relatively little attention has been given to the role of sex pheromones in mate choice and almost none to competition over mates. Here, we study male response to male pheromones in the lekking Drosophila grimshawi, where males deposit long-lasting pheromone streaks that attract males and females to the leks and influence mate assessment. We used two stocks of flies and both stocks adjusted their pheromone depositing behaviour in response to experimental manipulation, strongly indicating male ability to distinguish between competitors from qualitative differences in pheromone streaks alone. This is the first example of an insect distinguishing between individual odour signatures. Pheromone signalling influenced competition over mates, as males adjusted their investment in pheromone deposition in response to foreign pheromone streaks. Both sexes adapt their behaviour according to information from olfactory cues in D. grimshawi, but the relative benefits from male–female, as compared to male–male signalling, remain unknown. It seems likely that the pheromone signalling system originally evolved for attracting females to leks. The transition to a signalling system for conveying information about individuals may well, however, at least in part have been driven by benefits from male–male signalling.
individual recognition; scent matching; male competition; mate choice; lekking
In many insect species, cuticular hydrocarbons serve as pheromones that can mediate complex social behaviors. In Drosophila melanogaster, several hydrocarbons including the male sex pheromone 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA) and female-specific 7,11-dienes influence courtship behavior and can function as cues for short-term memory associated with the mating experience. Behavioral and physiological studies suggest that other unidentified chemical communication cues are likely to exist. To more fully characterize the hydrocarbon profile of the D. melanogaster cuticle, we applied direct ultraviolet laser desorption/ionization orthogonal time-of-flight mass spectrometry (UV-LDI-o-TOF MS) and analyzed the surface of intact fruit flies at a spatial resolution of approximately 200 μm.
We report the chemical and spatial characterization of 28 species of cuticular hydrocarbons, including a new major class of oxygen-containing compounds. Using UV-LDI MS, pheromones previously shown to be expressed exclusively by one sex, e.g. cVA, 7,11-heptacosadiene, and 7,11-nonacosadiene, appear to be found on both male and female flies. In males, cVA co-localizes at the tip of the ejaculatory bulb with a second acetylated hydrocarbon named CH503. We describe the chemical structure of CH503 as 3-O-acetyl-1,3-dihydroxy-octacosa-11,19-diene and show one behavioral role for this compound as a long-lived inhibitor of male courtship. Like cVA, CH503 is transferred from males to females during mating. Unlike cVA, CH503 remains on the surface of females for at least 10 days.
Oxygenated hydrocarbons comprise one major previously undescribed class of compounds on the Drosophila cuticular surface. In addition to cVA, a newly-discovered long chain acetate, CH503, serves as a mediator of courtship-related chemical communication.
The trpc2 gene encodes an ion channel involved in pheromonal detection and is found in the vomeronasal organ. In tprc2-/- knockout (KO) mice, maternal aggression (offspring protection) is impaired and brain Fos expression in females in response to a male are reduced. Here we examine in lactating wild-type (WT) and KO mice behavioral and brain responses to different olfactory/pheromonal cues. Consistent with previous studies, KO dams exhibited decreased maternal aggression and nest building, but we also identified deficits in nighttime nursing and increases in pup weight. When exposed to the bedding tests, WT dams typically ignored clean bedding, but buried male-soiled bedding from unfamiliar males. In contrast, KO dams buried both clean and soiled bedding. Differences in brain Fos expression were found between WT and KO mice in response to either no bedding, clean bedding, or soiled bedding. In the accessory olfactory bulb, a site of pheromonal signal processing, KO mice showed suppressed Fos activation in the anterior mitral layer relative to WT mice in response to clean and soiled bedding. However, in the medial and basolateral amygdala, KO mice showed a robust Fos response to bedding, suggesting that regions of the amygdala canonically associated with pheromonal sensing can be active in the brains of KO mice, despite compromised signaling from the vomeronasal organ. Together, these results provide further insights into the complex ways by which pheromonal signaling regulates the brain and behavior of the maternal female.
trpc2; vomeronasal; maternal; pheromone; defensive burying; amygdala
In the course of evolution butterflies and moths developed two different reproductive behaviors. Whereas butterflies rely on visual stimuli for mate location, moths use the ‘female calling plus male seduction’ system, in which females release long-range sex pheromones to attract conspecific males. There are few exceptions from this pattern but in all cases known female moths possess sex pheromone glands which apparently have been lost in female butterflies. In the day-flying moth family Castniidae (“butterfly-moths”), which includes some important crop pests, no pheromones have been found so far.
Using a multidisciplinary approach we described the steps involved in the courtship of P. archon, showing that visual cues are the only ones used for mate location; showed that the morphology and fine structure of the antennae of this moth are strikingly similar to those of butterflies, with male sensilla apparently not suited to detect female-released long range pheromones; showed that its females lack pheromone-producing glands, and identified three compounds as putative male sex pheromone (MSP) components of P. archon, released from the proximal halves of male forewings and hindwings.
This study provides evidence for the first time in Lepidoptera that females of a moth do not produce any pheromone to attract males, and that mate location is achieved only visually by patrolling males, which may release a pheromone at short distance, putatively a mixture of Z,E-farnesal, E,E-farnesal, and (E,Z)-2,13-octadecadienol. The outlined behavior, long thought to be unique to butterflies, is likely to be widespread in Castniidae implying a novel, unparalleled butterfly-like reproductive behavior in moths. This will also have practical implications in applied entomology since it signifies that the monitoring/control of castniid pests should not be based on the use of female-produced pheromones, as it is usually done in many moths.
The elaborate courtship ritual of Drosophila males is dictated by neural circuitry established by the transcription factor Fruitless and triggered by sex-specific sensory cues. Deciphering the role of different stimuli in driving courtship behavior has been limited by the inability to selectively target appropriate sensory classes. Here, we identify two ion channel genes belonging to the degenerin/epithelial sodium channel family, ppk23 and ppk29, which are expressed in fruitless-positive neurons on the legs and are essential for courtship. Gene loss-of-function, cell inactivation and cell activation experiments demonstrate that these genes and neurons are necessary and sufficient to inhibit courtship toward males and promote courtship toward females. Moreover, these cells respond to cuticular hydrocarbons, with different cells selectively responding to male or female pheromones. These studies identify a large population of pheromone-sensing neurons and demonstrate the essential role of contact chemosensation in the early courtship steps of mate selection and courtship initiation.
Insects utilize diverse families of ion channels to respond to environmental cues and control mating, feeding, and the response to threats. Although degenerin/epithelial sodium channels (DEG/ENaC) represent one of the largest families of ion channels in Drosophila melanogaster, the physiological functions of these proteins are still poorly understood. We found that the DEG/ENaC channel ppk23 is expressed in a subpopulation of sexually dimorphic gustatory-like chemosensory bristles that are distinct from those expressing feeding-related gustatory receptors. Disrupting ppk23 or inhibiting activity of ppk23-expressing neurons did not alter gustatory responses. Instead, blocking ppk23-positive neurons or mutating the ppk23 gene delayed the initiation and reduced the intensity of male courtship. Furthermore, mutations in ppk23 altered the behavioral response of males to the female-specific aphrodisiac pheromone 7(Z), 11(Z)-Heptacosadiene. Together, these data indicate that ppk23 and the cells expressing it play an important role in the peripheral sensory system that determines sexual behavior in Drosophila.
Insects utilize diverse families of ion channels to respond to environmental cues and control mating, feeding, and the response to threats. Degenerin/epithelial sodium channels (DEG/ENaC) represent one of the largest families of ion channels in Drosophila melanogaster. However, the physiological functions of the majority of these proteins in Drosophila or any other animal are still unknown. We discovered that the DEG/ENaC channel ppk23 is expressed in a subpopulation of sexually dimorphic gustatory-like chemosensory neurons. We show that ppk23 and the neurons expressing it are important for normal male sexual behaviors, possibly via the detection of an aphrodisiac pheromone, but not for feeding decisions. Together, these data indicate that DEG/ENaC signaling plays an important role in the peripheral sensory system that determines sexual behavior in Drosophila.
The molecular and cellular events mediating complex behaviors in animals are largely unknown. Elucidating the circuits underlying behaviors in simple model systems may shed light on how these circuits function. In Drosophila, courtship behavior provides a tractable model for studying the underlying basis of innate behavior. The male-specific pheromone 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA) modulates courtship behavior and is detected by T1 neurons, located on the antenna of male and female flies. The T1 neurons express the odorant receptor Or67d, and are exquisitely tuned to cVA pheromone. However, cVA-induced changes in mating behavior have also been reported upon manipulation of olfactory neurons expressing odorant receptor Or65a. These findings raise the issue of whether multiple olfactory-driven circuits underlie cVA-induced behavioral responses, and what role these circuits play in behavior. Here, we engineered flies in which the Or67d circuit is specifically activated in the absence of cVA in order to determine the role of this circuit in behavior. We created transgenic flies that express a dominant-active, pheromone-independent variant of the extracellular pheromone receptor, LUSH. We found that, similar to the behaviors elicited by cVA, engineered male flies have dramatically reduced courtship, while engineered females showed enhanced courtship. Furthermore, cVA exposure did not enhance the dominant LUSH-triggered effects on behavior in the engineered flies. Finally, we show the effects of both cVA and dominant LUSH on courtship are reversed by genetically removing Or67d. These findings demonstrate that the T1/Or67d circuit is necessary and sufficient to mediate sexually dimorphic courtship behaviors.
lush; Or67d; cVA; courtship; pheromone; olfaction
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.
Aggression is regulated by pheromones in many animal species1,2,3. However in no system have aggression pheromones, their cognate receptors and corresponding sensory neurons been identified. Here we show that 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), a male-specific volatile pheromone, robustly promotes male-male aggression in the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster. The aggression-promoting effect of synthetic cVA requires olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) expressing the receptor Or67d4,5,6, as well as the receptor itself. Activation of Or67d-expressing OSNs, either by genetic manipulation of their excitability or by exposure to male pheromones in the absence of other classes of OSNs, is sufficient to promote aggression. High densities of male flies can promote aggression through release of volatile cVA. In turn, cVA-promoted aggression can promote male fly dispersal from a food resource, in a manner dependent upon Or67d-expressing OSNs. These data suggest that cVA may mediate negative feedback control of male population density, through its effect on aggression. Identification of a pheromone-OSN pair controlling aggression in a genetic organism opens the way to unraveling the neurobiology of this evolutionarily conserved behavior.
The Drosophila sex pheromone cVA elicits different behaviors in males and females. First- and second-order olfactory neurons show identical pheromone responses, suggesting that sex genes differentially wire circuits deeper in the brain. Using in vivo whole-cell electrophysiology, we now show that two clusters of third-order olfactory neurons have dimorphic pheromone responses. One cluster responds in females; the other responds in males. These clusters are present in both sexes and share a common input pathway, but sex-specific wiring reroutes pheromone information. Regulating dendritic position, the fruitless transcription factor both connects the male-responsive cluster and disconnects the female-responsive cluster from pheromone input. Selective masculinization of third-order neurons transforms their morphology and pheromone responses, demonstrating that circuits can be functionally rewired by the cell-autonomous action of a switch gene. This bidirectional switch, analogous to an electrical changeover switch, provides a simple circuit logic to activate different behaviors in males and females.
•Two clusters of higher olfactory neurons show sex-specific responses to pheromone•Common sensory input is wired to a different cluster in each sex, rerouting information•Bidirectional circuit switch depends on dendritic location of third-order neurons•Circuit state determined by cell-autonomous action of a switch gene, fruitless
A circuitry change consisting of dendritic repositioning of third-order sensory neurons enables one pheromone to elicit differential responses in male and female flies. This bidirectional switch, analogous to an electrical changeover switch, provides a simple circuit logic to activate different behaviors in males and females.
In Drosophila, cuticular sex pheromones are long-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons synthesized from fatty acid precursors in epidermal cells called oenocytes. The species D. melanogaster shows sex pheromone dimorphism, with high levels of monoenes in males, and of dienes in females. Some biosynthesis enzymes are expressed both in fat body and oenocytes, rendering it difficult to estimate the exact role of oenocytes and of the transport of fatty acids from fat body to oenocytes in pheromone elaboration. To address this question, we RNAi silenced two main genes of the biosynthesis pathway, desat1 and desatF, in the oenocytes of D. melanogaster, without modifying their fat body expression.
Inactivation of desat1 in oenocytes resulted in a 96% and 78% decrease in unsaturated hydrocarbons in males and females, respectively. Female pheromones (dienes) showed a decrease of 90%. Inactivation of desatF, which is female-specific and responsible for diene formation, resulted in a dramatic loss of pheromones (-98%) paralleled with a two-fold increase in monoenes. Courtship parameters (especially courtship latency) from wild-type males were more affected by desat1 knocked-down females (courtship latency increased by four fold) than by desatF knocked-down ones (+65% of courtship latency).
The number of transcripts in oenocytes was estimated at 0.32 and 0.49 attomole/μg for desat1 in males and females, respectively, about half of the total transcripts in a fly. There were only 0.06 attomole/μg desatF transcripts in females, all located in the oenocytes.
Knock-down results for desat1 suggest that there must be very little transport of unsaturated precursors from fat body to the oenocytes, so pheromone synthesis occurs almost entirely through the action of biosynthesis enzymes within the oenocytes. Courtship experiments allow us to discuss the behavioral role of diene pheromones, which, under special conditions, could be replaced by monoenes in D. melanogaster. A possible explanation is given of how pheromones could have evolved in species such as D. simulans, which only synthesize monoenes.
Upon encountering a conspecific in the wild, males have to rapidly detect, integrate and process the most relevant signals to evoke an appropriate behavioral response. Courtship and aggression are the most important social behaviors in nature for procreation and survival: for males, making the right choice between the two depends on the ability to identify the sex of the other individual. In flies as in most species, males court females and attack other males. Although many sensory modalities are involved in sex recognition, chemosensory communication mediated by specific molecules that serve as pheromones plays a key role in helping males distinguish between courtship and aggression targets. The chemosensory signals used by flies include volatile and non-volatile compounds, detected by the olfactory and gustatory systems. Recently, several putative olfactory and gustatory receptors have been identified that play key roles in sex recognition, allowing investigators to begin to map the neuronal circuits that convey this sensory information to higher processing centers in the brain. Here, we describe how Drosophila melanogaster males use taste and smell to make correct behavioral choices.