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1.  Differential Interactions of Sex Pheromone and Plant Odour in the Olfactory Pathway of a Male Moth 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33159.
Most animals rely on olfaction to find sexual partners, food or a habitat. The olfactory system faces the challenge of extracting meaningful information from a noisy odorous environment. In most moth species, males respond to sex pheromone emitted by females in an environment with abundant plant volatiles. Plant odours could either facilitate the localization of females (females calling on host plants), mask the female pheromone or they could be neutral without any effect on the pheromone. Here we studied how mixtures of a behaviourally-attractive floral odour, heptanal, and the sex pheromone are encoded at different levels of the olfactory pathway in males of the noctuid moth Agrotis ipsilon. In addition, we asked how interactions between the two odorants change as a function of the males' mating status. We investigated mixture detection in both the pheromone-specific and in the general odorant pathway. We used a) recordings from individual sensilla to study responses of olfactory receptor neurons, b) in vivo calcium imaging with a bath-applied dye to characterize the global input response in the primary olfactory centre, the antennal lobe and c) intracellular recordings of antennal lobe output neurons, projection neurons, in virgin and newly-mated males. Our results show that heptanal reduces pheromone sensitivity at the peripheral and central olfactory level independently of the mating status. Contrarily, heptanal-responding olfactory receptor neurons are not influenced by pheromone in a mixture, although some post-mating modulation occurs at the input of the sexually isomorphic ordinary glomeruli, where general odours are processed within the antennal lobe. The results are discussed in the context of mate localization.
PMCID: PMC3299628  PMID: 22427979
2.  A Bidirectional Circuit Switch Reroutes Pheromone Signals in Male and Female Brains 
Cell  2013;155(7):1610-1623.
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.
Graphical Abstract
•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.
PMCID: PMC3898676  PMID: 24360281
3.  Evolution of sexual dimorphism in the olfactory brain of Hawaiian Drosophila. 
In the fruitfly, Drosophila melanogaster, mate choice during courtship depends on detecting olfactory cues, sex pheromones, which are initially processed in the antennal lobe (AL), a primary olfactory centre of the brain. However, no sexual differences in the structure of the AL have been found in Drosophila. We compared the central brain anatomy of 37 species of Drosophilidae from the islands of the Hawaiian archipelago, uncovering an extreme sexual dimorphism within the AL in which two out of the 51 identifiable glomeruli were markedly enlarged in males. A phylogeny indicated that the sexual dimorphism of the homologous glomeruli arose 0.4-1.9 Myr ago independently in two species groups of Hawaiian endemic Drosophilidae. The corresponding glomeruli in D. melanogaster were also found to be sexually dimorphic. The formation of glomeruli of male size is prevented by the ectopic expression of female-type transformer (tra) cDNA in males, indicating that the glomerular sexual dimorphism is under the control of the sex-determination cascade of genes. It is suggested that a defined set of glomeruli in Drosophila can enlarge in response to sex-determination genetic signals, the mutations of which may result in species differences in sexual dimorphism of the brain.
PMCID: PMC1691346  PMID: 12803889
4.  A role for the androgen receptor in the sexual differentiation of the olfactory system in mice 
Brain research reviews  2007;57(2):321-331.
Olfactory signals play a central role in the identification of a mating partner in rodents, and the behavioral response to these cues varies markedly between the sexes. As several other sexually dimorphic traits, this response is thought to differentiate as a result of exposure of the developing individual to gonadal steroids, but both the identity of the specific steroid signal and the neural structures targeted for differentiation on this particular case are largely unknown. The present review summarizes results obtained in our lab using genetic males affected by the testicular feminization syndrome (Tfm) as experimental model, and that led to the identification of a role for non-aromatized gonadal steroids acting through the androgen receptor (AR) in the differentiation of olfactory cues processing in mice. The existing literature about AR-mediated sexual differentiation of the CNS in animal models is discussed, along with potential targets for the action of non-aromatized gonadal steroids in either one of the subsystems that detect and process olfactory information in rodents.
PMCID: PMC2348186  PMID: 17915335
Sexual orientation; testicular feminization; androgen insensitivity syndrome; olfactory system; sexual differentiation; androgen receptor
5.  A Novel Neural Substrate for the Transformation of Olfactory Inputs into Motor Output 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(12):e1000567.
Anatomical and physiological experiments in the lamprey reveal the neural circuit involved in transforming olfactory inputs into motor outputs, which was previously unknown in a vertebrate.
It is widely recognized that animals respond to odors by generating or modulating specific motor behaviors. These reactions are important for daily activities, reproduction, and survival. In the sea lamprey, mating occurs after ovulated females are attracted to spawning sites by male sex pheromones. The ubiquity and reliability of olfactory-motor behavioral responses in vertebrates suggest tight coupling between the olfactory system and brain areas controlling movements. However, the circuitry and the underlying cellular neural mechanisms remain largely unknown. Using lamprey brain preparations, and electrophysiology, calcium imaging, and tract tracing experiments, we describe the neural substrate responsible for transforming an olfactory input into a locomotor output. We found that olfactory stimulation with naturally occurring odors and pheromones induced large excitatory responses in reticulospinal cells, the command neurons for locomotion. We have also identified the anatomy and physiology of this circuit. The olfactory input was relayed in the medial part of the olfactory bulb, in the posterior tuberculum, in the mesencephalic locomotor region, to finally reach reticulospinal cells in the hindbrain. Activation of this olfactory-motor pathway generated rhythmic ventral root discharges and swimming movements. Our study bridges the gap between behavior and cellular neural mechanisms in vertebrates, identifying a specific subsystem within the CNS, dedicated to producing motor responses to olfactory inputs.
Author Summary
Animal behaviors, including locomotion, can be driven by olfactory cues, such as pheromones or food sources. The neural substrate (neuroanatomical connections and physiological signals) that permits the transformation of olfactory inputs into locomotor responses is still unknown in vertebrates. In the present study, we identify such a neural substrate in the lamprey. Here, olfactory signals from the outside world are transmitted to the reticulospinal neurons in the lower brainstem, which provide the descending locomotor command to the spinal cord. We found that this circuit originates in the medial portion of the olfactory bulb and that connections are made in the posterior tuberculum, a ventral diencephalic structure. These inputs are then conveyed to the mesencephalic locomotor region, known to project extensively to brainstem reticulospinal neurons and thereby activate locomotion. Our results illuminate a specific dedicated neural substrate in the brain of lampreys that underlies olfactory-motor responses, which is activated by both food-related or pheromonal olfactory cues. It will be of interest to determine whether such a pathway is preserved in all vertebrates.
PMCID: PMC3006349  PMID: 21203583
6.  Involvement of the G-Protein-Coupled Dopamine/Ecdysteroid Receptor DopEcR in the Behavioral Response to Sex Pheromone in an Insect 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e72785.
Most animals including insects rely on olfaction to find their mating partners. In moths, males are attracted by female-produced sex pheromones inducing stereotyped sexual behavior. The behaviorally relevant olfactory information is processed in the primary olfactory centre, the antennal lobe (AL). Evidence is now accumulating that modulation of sex-linked behavioral output occurs through neuronal plasticity via the action of hormones and/or catecholamines. A G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) binding to 20-hydroxyecdysone, the main insect steroid hormone, and dopamine, has been identified in Drosophila (DmDopEcR), and was suggested to modulate neuronal signaling. In the male moth Agrotis ipsilon, the behavioral and central nervous responses to pheromone are age-dependent. To further unveil the mechanisms of this olfactory plasticity, we searched for DopEcR and tested its potential role in the behavioral response to sex pheromone in A. ipsilon males. Our results show that A. ipsilon DopEcR (named AipsDopEcR) is predominantly expressed in the nervous system. The corresponding protein was detected immunohistochemically in the ALs and higher brain centers including the mushroom bodies. Moreover, AipsDopEcR expression increased with age. Using a strategy of RNA interference, we also show that silencing of AipsDopEcR inhibited the behavioral response to sex pheromone in wind tunnel experiments. Altogether our results indicate that this GPCR is involved in the expression of sexual behavior in the male moth, probably by modulating the central nervous processing of sex pheromone through the action of one or both of its ligands.
PMCID: PMC3762930  PMID: 24023771
7.  Neural mechanisms of individual and sexual recognition in Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) 
Behavioural brain research  2008;200(2):260-267.
Recognizing the individual and sexual identities of conspecifics is critical for adaptive social behavior and, in most mammals this information is communicated primarily by chemosensory cues. Due to its heavy reliance on odor cues, we have used the Syrian hamster as our model species for investigating the neural regulation of social recognition. Using lesion, electrophysiological and immunocytochemical techniques, separate neural pathways underlying recognition of individual odors and guidance of sex-typical responses to opposite-sex odors have been identified in both male and female hamsters. Specifically, we have found that recognition of individual odor identity requires olfactory bulb connections to entorhinal cortex (ENT) rather than other chemoreceptive brain regions. This kind of social memory does not appear to require the hippocampus and may, instead, depend on ENT connections with piriform cortex. In contrast, sexual recognition, through either differential investigation or scent marking toward opposite-sex odors, depends on both olfactory and vomeronasal system input to the corticomedial amygdala. Preference for investigating opposite-sex odors requires primarily olfactory input to the medial amygdala (ME) whereas appropriately targeted scent marking responses require vomeronasal input to ME as well as to other structures. Within the ME, the anterior section (MEa) appears important for evaluating or classifying social odors whereas the posterodorsal region (MEpd) may be more involved in generating approach to social odors. Evidence is presented that analysis of social odors may initially be done in MEa and then communicated to MEpd, perhaps through micro-circuits that separately process male and female odors.
PMCID: PMC2668739  PMID: 19014975
Olfaction; Scent marking; Attraction; Odor; Pheromone
8.  Human pheromones and food odors: epigenetic influences on the socioaffective nature of evolved behaviors 
Olfactory cues directly link the environment to gene expression. Two types of olfactory cues, food odors and social odors, alter genetically predisposed hormone-mediated activity in the mammalian brain.
The honeybee is a model organism for understanding the epigenetic link from food odors and social odors to neural networks of the mammalian brain, which ultimately determine human behavior.
Pertinent aspects that extend the honeybee model to human behavior include bottom-up followed by top-down gene, cell, tissue, organ, organ-system, and organism reciprocity; neurophysiological effects of food odors and of sexually dimorphic, species-specific social odors; a model of motor function required for social selection that precedes sexual selection; and hormonal effects that link current neuroscience to social science affects on the development of animal behavior.
As the psychological influence of food odors and social orders is examined in detail, the socioaffective nature of olfactory cues on the biologically based development of sexual preferences across all species that sexually reproduce becomes clearer.
PMCID: PMC3960071
behavior; development; evolution; odors; food; social; sexual; epigenetic; olfaction; pheromones; hormones; environment; animal; affect; effect; neuroscience
9.  Sexually Dimorphic BDNF Signaling Directs Sensory Innervation of the Mammary Gland 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2012;338(6112):10.1126/science.1228258.
How neural circuits associated with sexually dimorphic organs are differentially assembled during development is unclear. Here, we report a sexually dimorphic pattern of mouse mammary gland sensory innervation and the mechanism of its formation. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), emanating from mammary mesenchyme and signaling through its receptor TrkB on sensory axons, is required for establishing mammary gland sensory innervation of both sexes at early developmental stages. Subsequently, in males, androgens promote mammary mesenchymal expression of a truncated form of TrkB, which prevents BDNF-TrkB signaling in sensory axons and leads to a rapid loss of mammary gland innervation independent of neuronal apoptosis. Thus, sex hormone regulation of a neurotrophic factor signal directs sexually dimorphic axonal growth and maintenance, resulting in generation of a sex-specific neural circuit.
PMCID: PMC3826154  PMID: 23224557
10.  Masculinization induced by neonatal exposure to PGE2 or estradiol alters c-fos induction by estrous odors in adult rats 
Physiology & behavior  2008;96(2):383-388.
Processing of relevant olfactory and pheromonal cues has long been known as an important process necessary for social and sexual behavior in rodents. Several nuclei that receive input from the vomeronasal projection pathway are involved in sexual behavior and show changes in immediate early gene expression after stimulation with a variety of sex-related stimuli. The nuclei in this pathway are sexually dimorphic due to the early patterning events induced by estradiol derived from testicular androgens, which developmentally defeminize and masculinize the brain and adult sexual behavior. Masculinization can be induced independently of estradiol via prostaglandin-E2.(PGE2), and therefore assessed separately from defeminization. Here we examined the effects of brain defeminization and masculinization on neuronal response to sex-related odors using Fos, the protein product of the immediate early gene c-fos, as an indicator of activity. Female rat pups treated with a cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitor, to reduce PGE2, plus estradiol, estradiol alone, and PGE2 alone were exposed to estrous female odor as adults and the resulting Fos expression was examined in the medial amygdala, preoptic area, and ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus. Defeminized and/or masculinized females all showed patterns of Fos activity similar to control males and significantly different from control females. These results suggest that early exposure to estradiol and PGE2 do not affect olfaction in females, but switch the activity pattern of sex-related nuclei in females to resemble that of males following exposure to sexually-relevant cues.
PMCID: PMC2771442  PMID: 18976678
estradiol; prostaglandin-E2; Fos; sexual behavior; pheromones
11.  Sexual differentiation and the Kiss1 system: hormonal and developmental considerations 
Peptides  2008;30(1):83-93.
The nervous system (both central and peripheral) is anatomically and physiologically differentiated between the sexes, ranging from gender-based differences in the cerebral cortex to motoneuron number in the spinal cord. Although genetic factors may play a role in the development of some sexually differentiated traits, most identified sex differences in the brain and behavior are produced under the influence of perinatal sex steroid signaling. In many species, the ability to display an estrogen-induced luteinizing hormone (LH) surge is sexually differentiated, yet the specific neural population(s) that allows females but not males to display such estrogen-mediated “positive feedback” has remained elusive. Recently, the Kiss1/kisspeptin system has been implicated in generating the sexually-dimorphic circuitry underlying the LH surge. Specifically, Kiss1 gene expression and kisspeptin protein levels in the anteroventral periventricular (AVPV) nucleus of the hypothalamus are sexually differentiated, with females displaying higher levels than males, even under identical hormonal conditions as adults. These findings, in conjunction with accumulating evidence implicating kisspeptins as potent secretagogues of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), suggest that the sex-specific display of the LH surge (positive feedback) reflects sexual differentiation of AVPV Kiss1 neurons. In addition, developmental kisspeptin signaling via its receptor GPR54 appears to be critical in males for the proper sexual differentiation of a variety of sexually dimorphic traits, ranging from complex social behavior to specific forebrain and spinal cord neuronal populations. This review discusses the recent data, and their implications, regarding the bidirectional relationship between the Kiss1 system and the process of sexual differentiation.
PMCID: PMC2631352  PMID: 18644414
metastin; kisspeptin; Kiss1; GPR54; sexual differentiation; sex differences; AVPV; tyrosine hydroxylase; development
12.  Candidate Olfaction Genes Identified within the Helicoverpa armigera Antennal Transcriptome 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e48260.
Antennal olfaction is extremely important for insect survival, mediating key behaviors such as host preference, mate choice, and oviposition site selection. Multiple antennal proteins are involved in olfactory signal transduction pathways. Of these, odorant receptors (ORs) and ionotropic receptors (IRs) confer specificity on olfactory sensory neuron responses. In this study, we identified the olfactory gene repertoire of the economically important agricultural pest moth, Helicoverpa armigera, by assembling the adult male and female antennal transcriptomes. Within the male and female antennal transcriptomes we identified a total of 47 OR candidate genes containing 6 pheromone receptor candidates. Additionally, 12 IR genes as well as 26 odorant-binding proteins and 12 chemosensory proteins were annotated. Our results allow a systematic functional analysis across much of conventional ORs repertoire and newly reported IRs mediating the key olfaction-mediated behaviors of H. armigera.
PMCID: PMC3482190  PMID: 23110222
13.  Modular genetic control of sexually dimorphic behaviors 
Cell  2012;148(3):596-607.
Sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone are essential for sexually dimorphic behaviors in vertebrates. However, the hormone-activated molecular mechanisms that control the development and function of the underlying neural circuits remain poorly defined. We have identified numerous sexually dimorphic gene expression patterns in the adult mouse hypothalamus and amygdala. We find that adult sex hormones regulate these expression patterns in a sex-specific, regionally-restricted manner, suggesting that these genes regulate sex typical behaviors. Indeed, we find that mice with targeted disruptions of each of four of these genes (Brs3, Cckar, Irs4, Sytl4) exhibit extremely specific deficits in sex specific behaviors, with single genes controlling the pattern or extent of male sexual behavior, male aggression, maternal behavior, or female sexual behavior. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that various components of sexually dimorphic behaviors are governed by separable genetic programs.
PMCID: PMC3326403  PMID: 22304924
14.  Enhanced urinary odor discrimination in female aromatase knockout (ArKO) mice 
Hormones and behavior  2006;49(5):580-586.
We asked whether odor discrimination abilities are sexually dimorphic in mice and, if so, whether the perinatal actions of estradiol contribute to these sex differences. The ability to discriminate different types of urinary odors was compared in male and female wild-type (WT) subjects and in mice with a homozygous-null mutation of the estrogen synthetic enzyme, aromatase (aromatase knockout; ArKO). Olfactory discrimination was assessed in WT and ArKO male and female mice after they were gonadectomized in adulthood and subsequently treated with estradiol benzoate. A liquid olfactometer was used to assess food-motivated olfactory discrimination capacity. All animals eventually learned to distinguish between urinary odors collected from gonadally intact males and estrous females; however, WT males as well as ArKO mice of both sexes learned this discrimination significantly more rapidly than WT females. Similar group differences were obtained when mice discriminated between urinary odors collected from gonadally intact vs. castrated males or between two non-social odorants, amyl and butyl acetate. When subjects had to discriminate volatile urinary odors from ovariectomized female mice treated with estradiol sequenced with progesterone versus estradiol alone, ArKO females quickly acquired the task whereas WT males and females as well as ArKO males failed to do so. These results demonstrated a strong sex dimorphism in olfactory discrimination ability, with WT males performing better than females. Furthermore, female ArKO mice showed an enhanced ability to discriminate very similar urinary odorants, perhaps due to an increased sensitivity of the main olfactory nervous system to adult estradiol treatment as a result of perinatal estrogen deprivation.
PMCID: PMC2263132  PMID: 16448653
Estrogens; Sex differences; Olfaction; Odor discrimination; Learning
15.  Volatile Drosophila Cuticular Pheromones Are Affected by Social but Not Sexual Experience 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40396.
Recognition of conspecifics and mates is based on a variety of sensory cues that are specific to the species, sex and social status of each individual. The courtship and mating activity of Drosophila melanogaster flies is thought to depend on the olfactory perception of a male-specific volatile pheromone, cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), and the gustatory perception of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs), some of which are sexually dimorphic. Using two complementary sampling methods (headspace Solid Phase Micro-Extraction [SPME] and solvent extraction) coupled with GC-MS analysis, we measured the dispersion of pheromonal CHs in the air and on the substrate around the fly. We also followed the variations in CHs that were induced by social and sexual interactions. We found that all CHs present on the fly body were deposited as a thin layer on the substrate, whereas only a few of these molecules were also detected in the air. Moreover, social experience during early adult development and in mature flies strongly affected male volatile CHs but not cVA, whereas sexual interaction only had a moderate influence on dispersed CHs. Our study suggests that, in addition to their role as contact cues, CHs can influence fly behavior at a distance and that volatile, deposited and body pheromonal CHs participate in a three-step recognition of the chemical identity and social status of insects.
PMCID: PMC3394786  PMID: 22808151
16.  Degradation of Pheromone and Plant Volatile Components by a Same Odorant-Degrading Enzyme in the Cotton Leafworm, Spodoptera littoralis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e29147.
Odorant-Degrading Enzymes (ODEs) are supposed to be involved in the signal inactivation step within the olfactory sensilla of insects by quickly removing odorant molecules from the vicinity of the olfactory receptors. Only three ODEs have been both identified at the molecular level and functionally characterized: two were specialized in the degradation of pheromone compounds and the last one was shown to degrade a plant odorant.
Previous work has shown that the antennae of the cotton leafworm Spodoptera littoralis, a worldwide pest of agricultural crops, express numerous candidate ODEs. We focused on an esterase overexpressed in males antennae, namely SlCXE7. We studied its expression patterns and tested its catalytic properties towards three odorants, i.e. the two female sex pheromone components and a green leaf volatile emitted by host plants.
SlCXE7 expression was concomitant during development with male responsiveness to odorants and during adult scotophase with the period of male most active sexual behaviour. Furthermore, SlCXE7 transcription could be induced by male exposure to the main pheromone component, suggesting a role of Pheromone-Degrading Enzyme. Interestingly, recombinant SlCXE7 was able to efficiently hydrolyze the pheromone compounds but also the plant volatile, with a higher affinity for the pheromone than for the plant compound. In male antennae, SlCXE7 expression was associated with both long and short sensilla, tuned to sex pheromones or plant odours, respectively. Our results thus suggested that a same ODE could have a dual function depending of it sensillar localisation. Within the pheromone-sensitive sensilla, SlCXE7 may play a role in pheromone signal termination and in reduction of odorant background noise, whereas it could be involved in plant odorant inactivation within the short sensilla.
PMCID: PMC3246455  PMID: 22216190
17.  Fetal Testosterone Influences Sexually Dimorphic Gray Matter in the Human Brain 
In non-human species, testosterone is known to have permanent ‘organizing’ effects early in life that predict later expression of sex differences in brain and behavior. However, in humans it is still unknown if such mechanisms have organizing effects on neural sexual dimorphism. In human males, we show that variation in fetal testosterone (FT) predicts later local gray matter volume of specific brain regions in a direction that is congruent with sexual dimorphism observed in a large independent sample of age-matched males and females from the NIH Pediatric MRI Data Repository. Right temporo-parietal junction/posterior superior temporal sulcus (RTPJ/pSTS), planum temporale/parietal operculum (PT/PO), and posterior lateral orbitofrontal cortex (plOFC) had local gray matter volume that was both sexually dimorphic and predicted in a congruent direction by FT. That is, gray matter volume in RTPJ/pSTS was greater for males compared to females and was positively predicted by FT. Conversely, gray matter volume in PT/PO and plOFC was greater in females compared to males and was negatively predicted by FT. Subregions of both amygdala and hypothalamus were also sexually dimorphic in the direction of Male>Female, but were not predicted by FT. However, FT positively predicted gray matter volume of a non-sexually dimorphic subregion of the amygdala. These results bridge a longstanding gap between human and non-human species in showing that FT acts as an organizing mechanism for the development of regional sexual dimorphism in the human brain.
PMCID: PMC3306238  PMID: 22238103
18.  miR-124 controls male reproductive success in Drosophila 
eLife  2013;2:e00640.
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.
eLife digest
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.
PMCID: PMC3679528  PMID: 23795292
microRNA; pheromome; behaviour; genetics; selection; evolution; D. melanogaster
19.  Activation of the T1 Neuronal Circuit is Necessary and Sufficient to Induce Sexually Dimorphic Mating 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.
PMCID: PMC3426441  PMID: 20164344
lush; Or67d; cVA; courtship; pheromone; olfaction
20.  Ghrelin Enhances Olfactory Sensitivity and Exploratory Sniffing in Rodents and Humans 
Olfaction is an integral part of feeding providing predictive cues that anticipate ingestion. Although olfactory function is modulated by factors such as prolonged fasting, the underlying neural mechanisms remain poorly understood. We recently identified ghrelin receptors in olfactory circuits in the brain. We therefore investigated the role of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin in olfactory processing in rodents and humans, testing the hypothesis that ghrelin lowers olfactory detection thresholds and enhances exploratory sniffing, both being related to food-seeking. In rats, intracerebroventricular ghrelin decreased odor detection thresholds and increased sniffing frequency. In humans, systemic ghrelin infusions significantly enhanced sniff magnitudes in response to both food and non-food odorants and air in comparison to control saline infusions but did not affect the pleasantness ratings of odors. This is consistent with a specific effect on odor detection and not the hedonic value of odors. Collectively, our findings indicate that ghrelin stimulates exploratory sniffing and increases olfactory sensitivity, presumably enhancing the ability to locate, identify and select foods. This novel role is consistent with ghrelin’s overall function as a signal amplifier at the molecular interface between environmental and nutritional cues and neuroendocrine circuits controlling energy homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC3089941  PMID: 21490225
ghrelin; gut hormone; olfaction; sniff; exploratory behavior; energy balance
21.  Symmetry Is Related to Sexual Dimorphism in Faces: Data Across Culture and Species 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(5):e2106.
Many animals both display and assess multiple signals. Two prominently studied traits are symmetry and sexual dimorphism, which, for many animals, are proposed cues to heritable fitness benefits. These traits are associated with other potential benefits, such as fertility. In humans, the face has been extensively studied in terms of attractiveness. Faces have the potential to be advertisements of mate quality and both symmetry and sexual dimorphism have been linked to the attractiveness of human face shape.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here we show that measurements of symmetry and sexual dimorphism from faces are related in humans, both in Europeans and African hunter-gatherers, and in a non-human primate. Using human judges, symmetry measurements were also related to perceived sexual dimorphism. In all samples, symmetric males had more masculine facial proportions and symmetric females had more feminine facial proportions.
Our findings support the claim that sexual dimorphism and symmetry in faces are signals advertising quality by providing evidence that there must be a biological mechanism linking the two traits during development. Such data also suggests that the signalling properties of faces are universal across human populations and are potentially phylogenetically old in primates.
PMCID: PMC2329856  PMID: 18461131
22.  Functional Specificity of Sex Pheromone Receptors in the Cotton Bollworm Helicoverpa armigera 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e62094.
Male moths can accurately perceive the sex pheromone emitted from conspecific females by their highly accurate and specific olfactory sensory system. Pheromone receptors are of special importance in moth pheromone reception because of their central role in chemosensory signal transduction processes that occur in olfactory receptor neurons in the male antennae. There are a number of pheromone receptor genes have been cloned, however, only a few have been functionally characterized. Here we cloned six full-length pheromone receptor genes from Helicoverpa armigera male antennae. Real-time PCR showing all genes exhibited male-biased expression in adult antennae. Functional analyses of the six pheromone receptor genes were then conducted in the heterologous expression system of Xenopus oocytes. HarmOR13 was found to be a specific receptor for the major sex pheromone component Z11-16:Ald. HarmOR6 was equally tuned to both of Z9-16: Ald and Z9-14: Ald. HarmOR16 was sensitively tuned to Z11-16: OH. HarmOR11, HarmOR14 and HarmOR15 failed to respond to the tested candidate pheromone compounds. Our experiments elucidated the functions of some pheromone receptor genes of H. armigera. These advances may provide remarkable evidence for intraspecific mating choice and speciation extension in moths at molecular level.
PMCID: PMC3626661  PMID: 23614018
23.  The smell of love in Drosophila 
Odors are key sensory signals for social communication and food search in animals including insects. Drosophila melanogaster, is a powerful neurogenetic model commonly used to reveal molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in odorant detection. Males use olfaction together with other sensory modalities to find their mates. Here, we review known olfactory signals, their related olfactory receptors, and the corresponding neuronal architecture impacting courtship. OR67d receptor detects 11-cis-Vaccenyl Acetate (cVA), a male specific pheromone transferred to the female during copulation. Transferred cVA is able to reduce female attractiveness for other males after mating, and is also suspected to decrease male-male courtship. cVA can also serve as an aggregation signal, maybe through another OR. OR47b was shown to be activated by fly odors, and to enhance courtship depending on taste pheromones. IR84a detects phenylacetic acid (PAA) and phenylacetaldehyde (PA). These two odors are not pheromones produced by flies, but are present in various fly food sources. PAA enhances male courtship, acting as a food aphrodisiac. Drosophila males have thus developed complementary olfactory strategies to help them to select their mates.
PMCID: PMC3617446  PMID: 23576993
courtship; Drosophila; olfaction; receptor; nervous system
24.  Blocking muscarinic receptors in the olfactory bulb impairs performance on an olfactory short-term memory task 
Cholinergic inputs to cortical processing networks have long been associated with attentional and top-down processing. Experimental and theoretical studies suggest that cholinergic inputs to the main olfactory bulb (OB) can modulate both neural and behavioral odor discrimination. Previous experiments from our laboratory and others demonstrate that blockade of nicotinic receptors directly impairs olfactory discrimination, whereas blockade of muscarinic receptors only measurably impairs olfactory perception when task demands are made more challenging, such as when very low-concentration odors are used or rats are required to maintain sensory memory over long durations. To further investigate the role of muscarinic signaling in the OB, we developed an olfactory delayed match-to-sample task using a digging-based behavioral paradigm. We find that rats are able to maintain robust short-term odor memory for 10–100 s. To investigate the role of muscarinic signaling in task performance, we bilaterally infused scopolamine into the OB. We find that high dosages of scopolamine (38 mM) impair performance on the task across all delays tested, including the baseline condition with no delay, whereas lower dosages (7.6 mM and 22.8 mM) had no measureable effects. These results indicate that general execution of the match-to-sample task, even with no delay, is at least partially dependent on muscarinic signaling in the OB.
PMCID: PMC3434342  PMID: 22973212
acetylcholine; scopolamine; delayed match-to-sample; olfactory bulb; olfaction
25.  Effects of neonatal treatment with valproic acid on vasopressin immunoreactivity and olfactory behaviour in mice 
Journal of neuroendocrinology  2011;23(10):906-914.
Recent findings demonstrate that epigenetic modifications are required for sexual differentiation of the brain. For example, neonatal administration of the histone deacetylase inhibitor, valproic acid, blocks masculinisation of cell number in the principal nucleus of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). Here we examined effects of valproic acid on neurochemistry and behaviour, focusing on traits that are sexually dimorphic and linked to the BNST. Newborn mice were treated with saline or valproic acid and the effect on vasopressin immunoreactivity and olfactory preference behavior examined in adulthood. As expected, males had more vasopressin immunoreactive fibers than females in the lateral septum and medial dorsal thalamus, two projection sites of BNST vasopressin neurons. Neonatal valproic acid increased vasopressin fiber density specifically in females in the lateral septum, thereby reducing the sex difference, and increased vasopressin fibers in both sexes in the medial dorsal thalamus. Effects were not specific to BNST vasopressin projections, however, as valproic acid also significantly increased vasopressin immunoreactivity in the anterior hypothalamic area in both sexes. Subtle sex-specific effects of neonatal valproic acid treatment were observed on olfactory behavior. As predicted, males showed a preference for investigating female-soiled bedding whereas females showed a preference for male-soiled bedding. Valproic acid did not significantly alter olfactory preference, per se, but increased the number of visits females made to female-soiled bedding and the overall time females spent investigating soiled versus clean bedding. Taken together, these results suggest that a transient disruption of histone deacetylation at birth does not have generalized effects on sexual differentiation, but does produce lasting effects on brain neurochemistry and behaviour.
PMCID: PMC3183375  PMID: 21793947

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