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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 regulate male social behaviors in Drosophila, but the identities and behavioral role(s) of these chemosensory signals, and how they interact, are incompletely understood. Here we show that (Z)-7-tricosene (7-T), a male-enriched cuticular hydrocarbon (CH) previously shown to inhibit male-male courtship, is also essential for normal levels of aggression. The opposite influences of 7-T on aggression and courtship are independent, but both require the gustatory receptor Gr32a. Surprisingly, sensitivity to 7-T is required for the aggression-promoting effect of 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), an olfactory pheromone, but 7-T sensitivity is independent of cVA. 7-T and cVA therefore regulate aggression in a hierarchical manner. Furthermore, the increased courtship caused by depletion of male CHs is suppressed by a mutation in the olfactory receptor Or47b. Thus, male social behaviors are controlled by gustatory pheromones that promote and suppress aggression and courtship, respectively, and whose influences are dominant to olfactory pheromones that enhance these behaviors.
Courtship in Drosophila melanogaster has become an iconic example of an innate and interactive series of behaviors [1–11]. The female signals her acceptance of copulation by becoming immobile in response to a male's display of stereotyped actions. The male and female communicate via vision, air-borne sounds, and pheromones [1, 2], but what triggers the female's immobility is undetermined. Here, we describe an overlooked and important component of Drosophila courtship. Video recordings and laser vibrometry show that the male abdomen shakes (“quivers”), generating substrate-borne vibrations at about six pulses per second. We present evidence that the female becomes receptive and stops walking because she senses these vibrations, rather than as a response to air-borne songs produced by the male fluttering the wings [1, 2, 12]. We also present evidence that the neural circuits expressing the sex-determination genes fruitless and doublesex  drive quivering behavior. These abdominal quivers and associated vibrations, as well as their effect on female receptivity, are conserved in other Drosophila species. Substrate-borne vibrations are an ancient form of communication that is widespread in animals. Our findings in Drosophila open a door to study the neuromuscular circuitry responsible for these signals and the sensory systems needed for their reception.
► Courting Drosophila males vibrate their abdomen generating substrate-borne signals ► Females respond to these signals by stopping movement, to allow copulation ► This substrate-borne mode of communication is conserved among Drosophila species ► fruitless and doublesex expressing neurons underlie the abdominal vibration behavior
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
What makes males and females behave differently? While genetic master-regulators commonly underlie physical differences, sexually dimorphic behavior is additionally influenced by sensory input such as olfactory cues. Olfaction requires both ligands for signaling and sensory neural circuits for detection. Specialized subsets of each interact to generate gender-dimorphic behavior. It has long been accepted that males and females emit sex-specific odor compounds that function as pheromones to promote stereotypic behavior. Significant advances have now been made in purifying and isolating several of these sex-specific olfactory ligands. In contrast, the neural mechanisms that enable a gender dimorphic response to these odors remain largely unknown. However, first progress has been made in identifying components of sexually dimorphic olfactory circuits in both Drosophila and the mouse.
Chemical communication plays a critical role in sexual selection and speciation in fishes; however, it is generally assumed that most fish pheromones are passively released since most fishes lack specialized scent glands or scent-marking behavior. Swordtails (genus Xiphophorus) are widely used in studies of female mate choice, and female response to male chemical cues is important to sexual selection, reproductive isolation, and hybridization. However, it is unclear whether females are attending to passively produced cues, or to pheromones produced in the context of communication.
We used fluorescein dye injections to visualize pulsed urine release in male sheepshead swordtails, Xiphophorus birchmanni. Simultaneous-choice assays of mating preference showed that females attend to species- and sex-specific chemical cues emitted in male urine. Males urinated more frequently in the presence and proximity of an audience (conspecific females). In the wild, males preferentially courted upstream of females, facilitating transmission of pheromone cues.
Males in a teleost fish have evolved sophisticated temporal and spatial control of pheromone release, comparable to that found in terrestrial animals. Pheromones are released specifically in a communicative context, and the timing and positioning of release favors efficient signal transmission.
Mate choice is of central importance to most animals, influencing population structure, speciation, and ultimately the survival of a species. Mating behavior of male brachionid rotifers is triggered by the product of a chemosensory gene, a glycoprotein on the body surface of females called the mate recognition pheromone. The mate recognition pheromone has been biochemically characterized, but little was known about the gene(s). We describe the isolation and characterization of the mate recognition pheromone gene through protein purification, N-terminal amino acid sequence determination, identification of the mate recognition pheromone gene from a cDNA library, sequencing, and RNAi knockdown to confirm the functional role of the mate recognition pheromone gene in rotifer mating.
A 29 kD protein capable of eliciting rotifer male circling was isolated by high-performance liquid chromatography. Two transcript types containing the N-terminal sequence were identified in a cDNA library; further characterization by screening a genomic library and by polymerase chain reaction revealed two genes belonging to each type. Each gene begins with a signal peptide region followed by nearly perfect repeats of an 87 to 92 codon motif with no codons between repeats and the final motif prematurely terminated by the stop codon. The two Type A genes contain four and seven repeats and the two Type B genes contain three and five repeats, respectively. Only the Type B gene with three repeats encodes a peptide with a molecular weight of 29 kD. Each repeat of the Type B gene products contains three asparagines as potential sites for N-glycosylation; there are no asparagines in the Type A genes. RNAi with Type A double-stranded RNA did not result in less circling than in the phosphate-buffered saline control, but transfection with Type B double-stranded RNA significantly reduced male circling by 17%. The very low divergence between repeat units, even at synonymous positions, suggests that the repeats are kept nearly identical through a process of concerted evolution. Information-rich molecules like surface glycoproteins are well adapted for chemical communication and aquatic animals may have evolved signaling systems based on these compounds, whereas insects use cuticular hydrocarbons.
Owing to its critical role in mating, the mate recognition pheromone gene will be a useful molecular marker for exploring the mechanisms and rates of selection and the evolution of reproductive isolation and speciation using rotifers as a model system. The phylogenetic variation in the mate recognition pheromone gene can now be studied in conjunction with the large amount of ecological and population genetic data being gathered for the Brachionus plicatilis species complex to understand better the evolutionary drivers of cryptic speciation.
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.
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.
Associative memory formation requires that animals choose predictors for experiences they need to remember. When an artificial odor is paired with an aversive experience, that odor becomes the predictor. In more natural settings, however, animals can have multiple salient experiences that need to be remembered and prioritized. The mechanisms by which animals deal with multiple experiences are incompletely understood.
Here we show that Drosophila males can be trained to discriminate between different types of female pheromones; they suppress courtship specifically to the type of female that was associated with unsuccessful courtship. Such “trainer-specific” learning is mediated by hydrocarbon olfactory cues and modifies the male’s processing of those cues. Animals that are unable to use olfactory cues can still learn by using other sensory modalities, but memory in this case is not specific to the trainer female’s maturation state. Concurrent and serial presentation of different pheromones demonstrates that the ability to consolidate memory of pheromonal cues can be modified by the temporal order in which they appear.
Suppression of memory by new learning demonstrates that the dynamics of memory consolidation are subject to plasticity in Drosophila. This type of metaplasticity is essential for navigation of experience-rich natural environments.
Successful mating is essentially a consequence of making the right choices at the correct time. Animals use specific strategies to gain information about a potential mate, which is then applied to decision-making processes. Amongst the many informative signals, odor cues such as sex pheromones play important ecological roles in coordinating mating behavior, enabling mate and kin recognition, qualifying mate choice, and preventing gene exchange among individuals from different populations and species. Despite overwhelming behavioral evidence, the chemical identity of most cues used in aquatic organisms remains unknown and their impact and omnipresence have not been fully recognized. In many crustaceans, including lobsters and shrimps, reproduction happens through a cascade of events ranging from initial attraction to formation of a mating pair eventually leading to mating. We examined the hypothesis that contact pheromones on the female body surface of the hermaphroditic shrimp Lysmata boggessi are of lipophilic nature, and resemble insect cuticular hydrocarbon contact cues. Via chemical analyses and behavioural assays, we show that newly molted euhermaphrodite-phase shrimp contain a bouquet of odor compounds. Of these, (Z)-9-octadecenamide is the key odor with hexadecanamide and methyl linoleate enhancing the bioactivity of the pheromone blend. Our results show that in aquatic systems lipophilic, cuticular hydrocarbon contact sex pheromones exist; this raises questions on how hydrocarbon contact signals evolved and how widespread these are in the marine environment.
Mate choice is based on the comparison of the sensory quality of potential mating partners, and sex pheromones play an important role in this process. In Drosophila melanogaster, contact pheromones differ between male and female in their content and in their effects on male courtship, both inhibitory and stimulatory. To investigate the genetic basis of sex pheromone discrimination, we experimentally selected males showing either a higher or lower ability to discriminate sex pheromones over 20 generations. This experimental selection was carried out in parallel on two different genetic backgrounds: wild-type and desat1 mutant, in which parental males showed high and low sex pheromone discrimination ability respectively. Male perception of male and female pheromones was separately affected during the process of selection. A comparison of transcriptomic activity between high and low discrimination lines revealed genes not only that varied according to the starting genetic background, but varied reciprocally. Mutants in two of these genes, Shaker and quick-to-court, were capable of producing similar effects on discrimination on their own, in some instances mimicking the selected lines, in others not. This suggests that discrimination of sex pheromones depends on genes whose activity is sensitive to genetic context and provides a rare, genetically defined example of the phenomenon known as “allele flips,” in which interactions have reciprocal effects on different genetic backgrounds.
Many animals rely on chemical cues to recognize and locate a resource, and they must extract the relevant information from a complex and changing odor environment. For example, in moths, finding a mate is mediated by a sex pheromone, which is detected in a rich environment of volatile plant compounds. Here, we investigated the effects of a volatile plant background on the walking response of male Spodoptera littoralis to the female pheromone. Males were stimulated by combining pheromone with one of three plant compounds, and their walking paths were recorded with a locomotion compensator and analyzed. We found that the addition of certain volatile plant compounds disturbed the orientation toward the sex pheromone. The effect on locomotion was correlated with the capacity of the plant compound to antagonize pheromone detection by olfactory receptor neurons, suggesting a masking effect of the background over the pheromone signal. Moths were more sensitive to changes in background compared to a constant background, suggesting that a background odor also acts as a distracting stimulus. Our experiments show that the effects of odorant background on insect responses to chemical signals are complex and cannot be explained by a single mechanism.
Detection of specific female pheromones stimulates courtship behavior in Drosophila melanogaster males, but the chemosensory molecules, cells and mechanisms involved remain poorly understood. Here we show that ppk25, a DEG/ENaC ion channel subunit required for normal male response to females, is expressed at highest levels in a single sexually dimorphic gustatory neuron of most taste hairs on legs and wings, but not in neurons that detect courtship-inhibiting pheromones or food. Synaptic inactivation of ppk25-expressing neurons, or knockdown of ppk25 expression in all gustatory neurons significantly impairs male response to females, whereas gustatory expression of ppk25 rescues the courtship behavior of ppk25 mutant males. Remarkably, the only other detectable albeit significantly weaker expression of ppk25 occurs in olfactory neurons implicated in modulation of courtship behavior. However, expression of ppk25 in olfactory neurons is not required for male courtship under our experimental conditions. These data show that ppk25 functions specifically in peripheral taste neurons involved in activation of courtship behavior, an unexpected function for this type of channel. Furthermore, our work identifies a small subset of gustatory neurons with an essential role in activation of male courtship behavior, most likely in response to female pheromones.
In most animals, male copulation is dependent on the detection and processing of female-produced sex pheromones. In males, a refractory postejaculatory interval (PEI) follows copulation, allowing them to avoid direct remating until they have replenished their reproductive tracts. In the moth Agrotis ipsilon, newly mated males show a transient inhibition of behavioral and central nervous responses to sex pheromone. Using non-pheromonal (plant) odors, pheromones and their mixture, we now show that the observed lack of pheromone response originates from differential post-mating odor processing in the brain. Although mated males still respond to plant odors alone, their response to mixtures depends on the added pheromone concentration. Below a specific threshold, sex pheromone is not detected at the brain level; above this threshold, it becomes inhibitory. This PEI can thus be interpreted as a «refusal to respond», which contradicts the generally accepted paradigm of sleep-like/exhaustion behavior during PEI.
lepidoptera; noctuidae; moth; olfaction; mating; pheromone; plant odour; antennal lobe; plasticity
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
Internal fertilization without copulation or prolonged physical contact is a rare reproductive mode among vertebrates. In many newts (Salamandridae), the male deposits a spermatophore on the substrate in the water, which the female subsequently takes up with her cloaca. Because such an insemination requires intense coordination of both sexes, male newts have evolved a courtship display, essentially consisting of sending pheromones under water by tail-fanning towards their potential partner. Behavioral experiments until now mostly focused on an attractant function, i.e. showing that olfactory cues are able to bring both sexes together. However, since males start their display only after an initial contact phase, courtship pheromones are expected to have an alternative function. Here we developed a series of intraspecific and interspecific two-female experiments with alpine newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris) and palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus) females, comparing behavior in male courtship water and control water. We show that male olfactory cues emitted during tail-fanning are pheromones that can induce all typical features of natural female mating behavior. Interestingly, females exposed to male pheromones of their own species show indiscriminate mating responses to conspecific and heterospecific females, indicating that visual cues are subordinate to olfactory cues during courtship.
Species-specific chemosignals, pheromones, regulate social behaviors such as aggression, mating, pup-suckling, territory establishment, and dominance. The identity of these cues remains mostly undetermined and few mammalian pheromones have been identified. Genetically-encoded pheromones are expected to exhibit several different mechanisms for coding 1) diversity, to enable the signaling of multiple behaviors, 2) dynamic regulation, to indicate age and dominance, and 3) species-specificity. Recently, the major urinary proteins (Mups) have been shown to function themselves as genetically-encoded pheromones to regulate species-specific behavior. Mups are multiple highly related proteins expressed in combinatorial patterns that differ between individuals, gender, and age; which are sufficient to fulfill the first two criteria. We have now characterized and fully annotated the mouse Mup gene content in detail. This has enabled us to further analyze the extent of Mup coding diversity and determine their potential to encode species-specific cues.
Our results show that the mouse Mup gene cluster is composed of two subgroups: an older, more divergent class of genes and pseudogenes, and a second class with high sequence identity formed by recent sequential duplications of a single gene/pseudogene pair. Previous work suggests that truncated Mup pseudogenes may encode a family of functional hexapeptides with the potential for pheromone activity. Sequence comparison, however, reveals that they have limited coding potential. Similar analyses of nine other completed genomes find Mup gene expansions in divergent lineages, including those of rat, horse and grey mouse lemur, occurring independently from a single ancestral Mup present in other placental mammals. Our findings illustrate that increasing genomic complexity of the Mup gene family is not evolutionarily isolated, but is instead a recurring mechanism of generating coding diversity consistent with a species-specific function in mammals.