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1.  Antennal carboxylesterases in a moth, structural and functional diversity 
Pheromone-degrading enzymes (PDEs) are supposed to be involved in the signal inactivation step within the olfactory sensilla of insects by quickly degrading pheromone molecules. Because esters are widespread insect pheromone components, PDEs belonging to the carboxylesterase (CCE) family have been the most studied. However, only two CCEs were both identified at the molecular level and functionally characterized as PDEs until recently. In the pest moth Spodoptera littoralis, we have identified an unsuspected diversity of antennal CCEs, with a total number of 30 genes. Two CCEs, enriched in antennae and belonging to distinct clades, were shown to present different substrate specificities toward pheromone and plant compounds. A same CCE was also shown to efficiently degrade both pheromone and plant components. Our results suggest that the structural evolution of antennal CCEs reflects their functional diversity and that a complex set of CCE-mediated reactions take place is the olfactory organs of moths.
PMCID: PMC3419116  PMID: 22896794
lepidoptera; noctuidae; olfaction; carboxylesterase; odorant-degrading enzymes; pheromone
2.  Characterization of an Antennal Carboxylesterase from the Pest Moth Spodoptera littoralis Degrading a Host Plant Odorant 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e15026.
Carboxyl/cholinesterases (CCEs) are highly diversified in insects. These enzymes have a broad range of proposed functions, in neuro/developmental processes, dietary detoxification, insecticide resistance or hormone/pheromone degradation. As few functional data are available on purified or recombinant CCEs, the physiological role of most of these enzymes is unknown. Concerning their role in olfaction, only two CCEs able to metabolize sex pheromones have been functionally characterized in insects. These enzymes are only expressed in the male antennae, and secreted into the lumen of the pheromone-sensitive sensilla. CCEs able to hydrolyze other odorants than sex pheromones, such as plant volatiles, have not been identified.
In Spodoptera littoralis, a major crop pest, a diversity of antennal CCEs has been previously identified. We have employed here a combination of molecular biology, biochemistry and electrophysiology approaches to functionally characterize an intracellular CCE, SlCXE10, whose predominant expression in the olfactory sensilla suggested a role in olfaction. A recombinant protein was produced using the baculovirus system and we tested its catabolic properties towards a plant volatile and the sex pheromone components.
We showed that SlCXE10 could efficiently hydrolyze a green leaf volatile and to a lesser extent the sex pheromone components. The transcript level in male antennae was also strongly induced by exposure to this plant odorant. In antennae, SlCXE10 expression was associated with sensilla responding to the sex pheromones and to plant odours. These results suggest that a CCE-based intracellular metabolism of odorants could occur in insect antennae, in addition to the extracellular metabolism occurring within the sensillar lumen. This is the first functional characterization of an Odorant-Degrading Enzyme active towards a host plant volatile.
PMCID: PMC2993938  PMID: 21124773
3.  A Comparison of the Olfactory Gene Repertoires of Adults and Larvae in the Noctuid Moth Spodoptera littoralis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e60263.
To better understand the olfactory mechanisms in a lepidopteran pest model species, the cotton leafworm Spodoptera littoralis, we have recently established a partial transcriptome from adult antennae. Here, we completed this transcriptome using next generation sequencing technologies, namely 454 and Illumina, on both adult antennae and larval tissues, including caterpillar antennae and maxillary palps. All sequences were assembled in 77,643 contigs. Their analysis greatly enriched the repertoire of chemosensory genes in this species, with a total of 57 candidate odorant-binding and chemosensory proteins, 47 olfactory receptors, 6 gustatory receptors and 17 ionotropic receptors. Using RT-PCR, we conducted the first exhaustive comparison of olfactory gene expression between larvae and adults in a lepidopteran species. All the 127 candidate olfactory genes were profiled for expression in male and female adult antennae and in caterpillar antennae and maxillary palps. We found that caterpillars expressed a smaller set of olfactory genes than adults, with a large overlap between these two developmental stages. Two binding proteins appeared to be larvae-specific and two others were adult-specific. Interestingly, comparison between caterpillar antennae and maxillary palps revealed numerous organ-specific transcripts, suggesting the complementary involvement of these two organs in larval chemosensory detection. Adult males and females shared the same set of olfactory transcripts, except two male-specific candidate pheromone receptors, two male-specific and two female-specific odorant-binding proteins. This study identified transcripts that may be important for sex-specific or developmental stage-specific chemosensory behaviors.
PMCID: PMC3614943  PMID: 23565215
4.  Changes in Odor Background Affect the Locomotory Response to Pheromone in Moths 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e52897.
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.
PMCID: PMC3534683  PMID: 23301000
5.  A General Odorant Background Affects the Coding of Pheromone Stimulus Intermittency in Specialist Olfactory Receptor Neurones 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26443.
In nature the aerial trace of pheromone used by male moths to find a female appears as a train of discontinuous pulses separated by gaps among a complex odorant background constituted of plant volatiles. We investigated the effect of such background odor on behavior and coding of temporal parameters of pheromone pulse trains in the pheromone olfactory receptor neurons of Spodoptera littoralis. Effects of linalool background were tested by measuring walking behavior towards a source of pheromone. While velocity and orientation index did drop when linalool was turned on, both parameters recovered back to pre-background values after 40 s with linalool still present. Photo-ionization detector was used to characterize pulse delivery by our stimulator. The photo-ionization detector signal reached 71% of maximum amplitude at 50 ms pulses and followed the stimulus period at repetition rates up to 10 pulses/s. However, at high pulse rates the concentration of the odorant did not return to base level during inter-pulse intervals. Linalool decreased the intensity and shortened the response of receptor neurons to pulses. High contrast (>10 dB) in firing rate between pulses and inter-pulse intervals was observed for 1 and 4 pulses/s, both with and without background. Significantly more neurons followed the 4 pulses/s pattern when delivered over linalool; at the same time the information content was preserved almost to the control values. Rapid recovery of behavior shows that change of perceived intensity is more important than absolute stimulus intensity. While decreasing the response intensity, background odor preserved the temporal parameters of the specific signal.
PMCID: PMC3196569  PMID: 22028879
6.  Plant odorants interfere with detection of sex pheromone signals by male Heliothis virescens 
In many insects, mate finding relies on female-released sex pheromones, which have to be deciphered by the male olfactory system within an odorous background of plant volatiles present in the environment of a calling female. With respect to pheromone-mediated mate localization, plant odorants may be neutral, favorable, or disturbing. Here we examined the impact of plant odorants on detection and coding of the major sex pheromone component, (Z)-11-hexadecenal (Z11-16:Ald) in the noctuid moth Heliothis virescens. By in vivo imaging the activity in the male antennal lobe (AL), we monitored the interference at the level of olfactory sensory neurons (OSN) to illuminate mixture interactions. The results show that stimulating the male antenna with Z11-16:Ald and distinct plant-related odorants simultaneously suppressed pheromone-evoked activity in the region of the macroglomerular complex (MGC), where Z11-16:Ald-specific OSNs terminate. Based on our previous findings that antennal detection of Z11-16:Ald involves an interplay of the pheromone binding protein (PBP) HvirPBP2 and the pheromone receptor (PR) HR13, we asked if the plant odorants may interfere with any of the elements involved in pheromone detection. Using a competitive fluorescence binding assay, we found that the plant odorants neither bind to HvirPBP2 nor affect the binding of Z11-16:Ald to the protein. However, imaging experiments analyzing a cell line that expressed the receptor HR13 revealed that plant odorants significantly inhibited the Z11-16:Ald-evoked calcium responses. Together the results indicate that plant odorants can interfere with the signaling process of the major sex pheromone component at the receptor level. Consequently, it can be assumed that plant odorants in the environment may reduce the firing activity of pheromone-specific OSNs in H. virescens and thus affect mate localization.
PMCID: PMC3465774  PMID: 23060749
pheromone detection; antennal lobe; pheromone receptor; pheromone binding protein; olfaction
7.  Floral to green: mating switches moth olfactory coding and preference 
Mating induces profound physiological changes in a wide range of insects, leading to behavioural adjustments to match the internal state of the animal. Here, we show for the first time, to our knowledge, that a noctuid moth switches its olfactory response from food to egg-laying cues following mating. Unmated females of the cotton leafworm (Spodoptera littoralis) are strongly attracted to lilac flowers (Syringa vulgaris). After mating, attraction to floral odour is abolished and the females fly instead to green-leaf odour of the larval host plant cotton, Gossypium hirsutum. This behavioural switch is owing to a marked change in the olfactory representation of floral and green odours in the primary olfactory centre, the antennal lobe (AL). Calcium imaging, using authentic and synthetic odours, shows that the ensemble of AL glomeruli dedicated to either lilac or cotton odour is selectively up- and downregulated in response to mating. A clear-cut behavioural modulation as a function of mating is a useful substrate for studies of the neural mechanisms underlying behavioural decisions. Modulation of odour-driven behaviour through concerted regulation of odour maps contributes to our understanding of state-dependent choice and host shifts in insect herbivores.
PMCID: PMC3350682  PMID: 22319127
olfaction; mating; modulation; host finding; herbivore; Spodoptera littoralis
8.  An Expressed Sequence Tag collection from the male antennae of the Noctuid moth Spodoptera littoralis: a resource for olfactory and pheromone detection research 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:86.
Nocturnal insects such as moths are ideal models to study the molecular bases of olfaction that they use, among examples, for the detection of mating partners and host plants. Knowing how an odour generates a neuronal signal in insect antennae is crucial for understanding the physiological bases of olfaction, and also could lead to the identification of original targets for the development of olfactory-based control strategies against herbivorous moth pests. Here, we describe an Expressed Sequence Tag (EST) project to characterize the antennal transcriptome of the noctuid pest model, Spodoptera littoralis, and to identify candidate genes involved in odour/pheromone detection.
By targeting cDNAs from male antennae, we biased gene discovery towards genes potentially involved in male olfaction, including pheromone reception. A total of 20760 ESTs were obtained from a normalized library and were assembled in 9033 unigenes. 6530 were annotated based on BLAST analyses and gene prediction software identified 6738 ORFs. The unigenes were compared to the Bombyx mori proteome and to ESTs derived from Lepidoptera transcriptome projects. We identified a large number of candidate genes involved in odour and pheromone detection and turnover, including 31 candidate chemosensory receptor genes, but also genes potentially involved in olfactory modulation.
Our project has generated a large collection of antennal transcripts from a Lepidoptera. The normalization process, allowing enrichment in low abundant genes, proved to be particularly relevant to identify chemosensory receptors in a species for which no genomic data are available. Our results also suggest that olfactory modulation can take place at the level of the antennae itself. These EST resources will be invaluable for exploring the mechanisms of olfaction and pheromone detection in S. littoralis, and for ultimately identifying original targets to fight against moth herbivorous pests.
PMCID: PMC3045336  PMID: 21276261
9.  A carboxylesterase, Esterase-6, modulates sensory physiological and behavioral response dynamics to pheromone in Drosophila 
BMC Biology  2012;10:56.
Insects respond to the spatial and temporal dynamics of a pheromone plume, which implies not only a strong response to 'odor on', but also to 'odor off'. This requires mechanisms geared toward a fast signal termination. Several mechanisms may contribute to signal termination, among which odorant-degrading enzymes. These enzymes putatively play a role in signal dynamics by a rapid inactivation of odorants in the vicinity of the sensory receptors, although direct in vivo experimental evidences are lacking. Here we verified the role of an extracellular carboxylesterase, esterase-6 (Est-6), in the sensory physiological and behavioral dynamics of Drosophila melanogaster response to its pheromone, cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA). Est-6 was previously linked to post-mating effects in the reproductive system of females. As Est-6 is also known to hydrolyze cVA in vitro and is expressed in the main olfactory organ, the antenna, we tested here its role in olfaction as a putative odorant-degrading enzyme.
We first confirm that Est-6 is highly expressed in olfactory sensilla, including cVA-sensitive sensilla, and we show that expression is likely associated with non-neuronal cells. Our electrophysiological approaches show that the dynamics of olfactory receptor neuron (ORN) responses is strongly influenced by Est-6, as in Est-6° null mutants (lacking the Est-6 gene) cVA-sensitive ORN showed increased firing rate and prolonged activity in response to cVA. Est-6° mutant males had a lower threshold of behavioral response to cVA, as revealed by the analysis of two cVA-induced behaviors. In particular, mutant males exhibited a strong decrease of male-male courtship, in association with a delay in courtship initiation.
Our study presents evidence that Est-6 plays a role in the physiological and behavioral dynamics of sex pheromone response in Drosophila males and supports a role of Est-6 as an odorant-degrading enzyme (ODE) in male antennae. Our results also expand the role of Est-6 in Drosophila biology, from reproduction to olfaction, and highlight the role of ODEs in insect olfaction.
PMCID: PMC3414785  PMID: 22715942
carboxylesterase; esterase 6; olfaction; pheromone; signal termination
10.  Evaluation and modeling of synergy to pheromone and plant kairomone in American palm weevil 
Many behavioral responses to odors are synergistic, particularly in insects. In beetles, synergy often involves a pheromone and a plant odor, and pest management relies on them for the use of combined lures. To investigate olfactory synergy mechanisms, we need to distinguish synergistic effects from additive ones, when all components of the mixture are active.
As versatile tools and procedures were not available, we developed a bioassay, and a mathematical model to evaluate synergy between aggregation pheromone (P) and host plant odors (kairomone: K) in the American palm weevil, a pest insect showing enhanced responses to P+K mixtures. Responses to synthetic P and natural K were obtained using a 4-arm olfactometer coupled to a controlled volatile delivery system. We showed that: (1) Response thresholds were ca. 10 and 100 pg/s respectively for P and K. (2) Both stimuli induced similar maximum response. (3) Increasing the dose decreased the response for P to the point of repellence and maintained a maximum response for K. (4) P and K were synergistic over a 100-fold range of doses with experimental responses to P+K mixtures greater than the ones predicted assuming additive effects. Responses close to maximum were associated with the mixture amounts below the response threshold for both P and K.
These results confirm the role of olfactory synergy in optimizing active host-plant localization by phytophagous insects. Our evaluation procedure can be generalized to test synergistic or inhibitory integrated responses of various odor mixtures for various insects.
PMCID: PMC3076224  PMID: 21463509
11.  Crystallographic Observation of pH-Induced Conformational Changes in the Amyelois transitella Pheromone-Binding Protein AtraPBP1 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e53840.
The navel orangeworm, Amyelois transitella is a major agricultural pest causing large losses in a variety of tree crops. Control of this insect pest may be achieved by interfering with olfactory pathways to block detection of female-produced sex pheromones and consequently, disrupt mating. The first component of this pathway is the pheromone-binding protein AtraPBP1, which recognizes the pheromone and presents it to the odorant receptor housed in a sensory neuron of the male antennae. Release of the ligand depends on a pH-induced conformational change associated with the acidity of the membrane surface. To characterize this conformational change and to understand how pheromones bind, we have determined the high resolution crystal structures of AtraPBP1 in complex with two main constituents of the sex pheromone, i.e., (11Z,13Z)-hexadecadienal and (11Z,13Z)-hexadecadienol. Comparison with the structure of the unliganded form demonstrates a large ∼90° movement of the C-terminal helix which is observed in other pheromone- or odorant-binding proteins accompanied by an unpredicted 37° displacement of the N-terminal helix. Molecular dynamic trajectories suggest that the conformational change of the α1 helix facilitates the movement of the C-terminal helix.
PMCID: PMC3572114  PMID: 23418423
12.  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
13.  Identification, phylogenetic analysis and expression profile of an anionic insect defensin gene, with antibacterial activity, from bacterial-challenged cotton leafworm, Spodoptera littoralis 
BMC Molecular Biology  2011;12:47.
Defensins are a well known family of cationic antibacterial peptides (AMPs) isolated from fungi, plants, insects, mussels, birds, and various mammals. They are predominantly active against gram (+) bacteria, and a few of them are also active against gram (-) bacteria and fungi. All insect defensins belonging to the invertebrate class have a consensus motif, C-X5-16-C-X3-C-X9-10-C-X4-7-CX1-C. Only seven AMPs have already been found in different lepidopteran species. No report was published on the isolation of defensin from the Egyptian cotton leafworm, Spodoptera littoralis.
An anionic defensin, termed SpliDef, was isolated from the haemolymph of the cotton leafworm, S. littoralis, after bacterial challenge using differential display technique. Based on sequence analyses of the data, specific primers for full length and mature peptide of defensin were designed and successfully amplified 471 and 150 bp amplicons. The integration of the results revealed that the 471 bp-PCR product has one open reading frame (orf) of 303 bp long, including both start codon (AUG) and stop codon (UGA). The deduced peptide consists of a 23-residues signal peptide, a 27-residues propeptide and a 50-residues mature peptide with the conserved six-cysteine motif of insect defensins. Both haemolymph and expressed protein exhibited antibacterial activities comparable to positive control. The RT-qPCR indicated that it was more than 41-folds up-regulated at 48 h p.i.
Our results highlight an important immune role of the defensin gene in Spodoptera littoralis by cooperating with other AMPs to control bacterial infection.
PMCID: PMC3234185  PMID: 22067477
14.  Use of DNA Barcodes to Identify Invasive Armyworm Spodoptera Species in Florida 
A critical component for sustaining adequate food production is the protection of local agriculture from invasive pest insects. Essential to this goal is the ability to accurately distinguish foreign from closely related domestic species, a process that has traditionally required identification using diagnostic morphological “keys” that can be both subtle and labor-intensive. This is the case for the Lepidopteran group of insects represented by Spodoptera, a genus of Noctuidae “armyworm” moths that includes several important agricultural pests. Two of the most destructive species, Spodoptera littoralis (Boisduval) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) and S. litura (F.) are not yet established in North America. To facilitate the monitoring for these pests, the feasibility of using DNA barcoding methodology for distinguishing between domestic and foreign Spodoptera species was tested. A DNA barcoding database was derived for a subset of Spodoptera species native to Florida, with an emphasis on those attracted to pheromone blends developed for S. litura or S. littoralis. These were then compared to the barcode sequences of S. litura collected from Taiwan and S. littoralis from Portugal. Consistent discrimination of the different species was obtained with phenetic relationships produced that were generally in agreement with phylogenetic studies using morphological characteristics. The data presented here indicate that DNA barcoding has the potential to be an efficient and accurate supplement to morphological methods for the identification of invasive Spodoptera pests in North America.
PMCID: PMC3391933  PMID: 22239735
COI; cytochrome-c oxidase subunit I; invasive pests; mitochondrial DNA
15.  In Vivo Pyro-SIP Assessing Active Gut Microbiota of the Cotton Leafworm, Spodoptera littoralis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e85948.
The gut microbiota is of crucial importance for the host with considerable metabolic activity. Although great efforts have been made toward characterizing microbial diversity, measuring components' metabolic activity surprisingly hasn't kept pace. Here we combined pyrosequencing of amplified 16S rRNA genes with in vivo stable isotope probing (Pyro-SIP) to unmask metabolically active bacteria in the gut of cotton leafworm (Spodoptera littoralis), a polyphagous insect herbivore that consumes large amounts of plant material in a short time, liberating abundant glucose in the alimentary canal as a most important carbon and energy source for both host and active gut bacteria. With 13C glucose as the trophic link, Pyro-SIP revealed that a relatively simple but distinctive gut microbiota co-developed with the host, both metabolic activity and composition shifting throughout larval stages. Pantoea, Citrobacter and Clostridium were particularly active in early-instar, likely the core functional populations linked to nutritional upgrading. Enterococcus was the single predominant genus in the community, and it was essentially stable and metabolically active in the larval lifespan. Based on that Enterococci formed biofilm-like layers on the gut epithelium and that the isolated strains showed antimicrobial properties, Enterococcus may be able to establish a colonization resistance effect in the gut against potentially harmful microbes from outside. Not only does this establish the first in-depth inventory of the gut microbiota of a model organism from the mostly phytophagous Lepidoptera, but this pilot study shows that Pyro-SIP can rapidly gain insight into the gut microbiota's metabolic activity with high resolution and high precision.
PMCID: PMC3903505  PMID: 24475063
16.  Identification of a δ-Endotoxin Gene Product Specifically Active against Spodoptera littoralis Bdv. among Proteolysed Fractions of the Insecticidal Crystals of Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. aizawai 7.29 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  1988;54(11):2689-2698.
At least three different insecticidal crystal protein genes were shown to be expressed in Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. aizawai 7.29, a strain that is potentially active against the cotton leafworm Spodoptera littoralis Bdv. Among crude K-60 fractions (60- to 70-kilodalton [kDa] molecules) that were products of proteolysed crystals containing the active domains of the protoxin molecules, we were able to distinguish several distinct components on the basis of their antigenic relationship and their larvicidal properties. A purified fraction designated SF2 was a 61-kDa component specifically active against Pieris brassicae L. and homologous to the B. thuringiensis subsp. berliner 1715 plasmid-encoded crystal protein. A second fraction designated SF1 was composed of 63- and 65-kDa polypeptides and was specifically active against S. littoralis. The SF1 fraction and particularly the 65-kDa component were not antigenically related to the 61-kDa component. The purified fractions were compared with the products of three different crystal protein genes we previously cloned from total DNA of B. thuringiensis subsp. aizawai, among them a new type of crystal protein gene encoding a protein that is specifically active against S. littoralis and other insects of the Noctuidae family. This approach led us to consider the 65-kDa component as a minimum active part of a δ-endotoxin that is encoded by this new gene. Products of the two other cloned genes can be correlated with the 61- and 63-kDa components, respectively. Thus, in B. thuringiensis subsp. aizawai 7.29, multiple δ-endotoxin genes of different structural types direct the synthesis of several δ-endotoxins with different host specificities which were identified as components of the insecticidal crystals.
PMCID: PMC204357  PMID: 16347771
17.  Intraspecific Combinations of Flower and Leaf Volatiles Act Together in Attracting Hawkmoth Pollinators 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e72805.
Insects pinpoint mates, food and oviposition sites by olfactory cues. Recognizing and localizing a suitable target by olfaction is demanding. Odor sources emit characteristic blends of compounds that have to be identified against an environmentally derived olfactory background. This background, however, does not necessarily disturb the localization of a source. Rather, the contrary. Sex pheromones become more attractive to male moths when being presented against a relevant plant background. Here we asked whether such olfactory coaction also characterizes foraging cues. The tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta feeds on nectar from wild tobacco Nicotiana attenuata and sacred datura Datura wrightii flowers. We tested how leaf-derived volatile blends as a background affect the moths' approach to flower blends. We found coaction when a flower blend was presented against a conspecific leaf volatile background but not when the blend was presented against volatiles emitted by the other host plant or by a non-host plant. Hence, our results reveal a species-specific coaction between flower blend and leaf volatile background. The ability to integrate information from different odor sources on one plant might provide the moth with a fine-grained analysis of food site quality.
PMCID: PMC3771915  PMID: 24069159
18.  Antennal sensilla of two female anopheline sibling species with differing host ranges 
Malaria Journal  2006;5:26.
Volatile odors are important sensory inputs that shape the behaviour of insects, including agricultural pests and disease vectors. Anopheles gambiae s.s. is a highly anthropophilic mosquito and is the major vector for human malaria in sub-Sahara Africa, while Anopheles quadriannulatus, largely due to its zoophilic behaviour, is considered a non-vector species in the same region. Careful studies of olfaction in these sibling species may lead to insights about the mechanisms that drive host preference behaviour. In the present study, the external anatomy of the antenna, the principle olfactory organ in the female mosquito of both species, was examined as an initial step toward more detailed comparisons.
Scanning electron and light microscopy were used to examine the antennae ultrastructures of adult female An. gambiae s.s. and An. quadriannulatus. Sensory structures, called sensilla, were categorized and counted; their distributions are reported here as well as densities calculated for each species.
Both An. gambiae s.s. and An. quadriannulatus bear five classes of sensilla on their antennae: chaetica (bristles), trichodea (hairs), basiconica (pegs), coeloconica (pitted pegs), and ampullacea (pegs in tubes). Female An. quadriannulatus antennae have approximately one-third more sensilla, and a proportionally larger surface area, than female An. gambiae s.s. antennae.
The same types of sensilla are found on the antennae of both species. While An. quadriannulatus has greater numbers of each sensilla type, sensilla densities are very similar for each species, suggesting that other factors may be more important to such olfactory-driven behaviours as host preference.
PMCID: PMC1532926  PMID: 16573828
19.  Effect of the Extracts of the Spiderflower, Cleome arabica, on Feeding and Survival of Larvae of the Cotton Leafworm, Spodoptera littoralis 
Aqueous and organic (hexane, chloroform, and methanol) extracts of siliquae, stems and leaves, and seeds of Cleome arabica L. (Brassicales: Capparidaceae) were evaluated in the laboratory for their antifeeding and insecticidal effect on larvae of the cotton leafworm, Spodoptera littoralis (Boisduval) (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae), using a leaf dipping bioassay with castor bean, Ricinus communis L. (Malpighiales: Euphorbiaceae), leaf discs. The polar extracts caused significant mortality. At the highest dose, C. arabica extracts exhibited significant antifeeding and phagostimulating activities against S. littoralis larvae. Under no-choice conditions, the methanol extract of siliquae was the most active, and the antifeedant index calculated over 24 hr for 3rd instar larvae varied significantly from 16 to 37%. Using nutritional indices, it was established that there was a significant decrease in growth rate concomitant with a reduction in consumption. These results suggest the presence of anti-feeding and/or toxic substances in the extracts that may be useful in developing bio-insecticides based on C. arabica extracts for use in integrated pest management of leafworm and other agricultural pests.
PMCID: PMC3740824  PMID: 23906290
antifeeding; bio-inesceticides; botanicals extracts; nutritional indices; toxicity
20.  Candidate chemosensory Genes in Female Antennae of the Noctuid Moth Spodoptera littoralis 
Chemical senses are crucial for all organisms to detect various environmental information. Different protein families, expressed in chemosensory organs, are involved in the detection of this information, such as odorant-binding proteins, olfactory and gustatory receptors, and ionotropic receptors. We recently reported an Expressed Sequence Tag (EST) approach on male antennae of the noctuid moth, Spodoptera littoralis, with which we could identify a large array of chemosensory genes in a species for which no genomic data are available.
Here we describe a complementary EST project on female antennae in the same species. 18,342 ESTs were sequenced and their assembly with our previous male ESTs led to a total of 13,685 unigenes, greatly improving our description of the S. littoralis antennal transcriptome. Gene ontology comparison between male and female data suggested a similar complexity of antennae of both sexes. Focusing on chemosensation, we identified 26 odorant-binding proteins, 36 olfactory and 5 gustatory receptors, expressed in the antennae of S. littoralis. One of the newly identified gustatory receptors appeared as female-enriched. Together with its atypical tissue-distribution, this suggests a role in oviposition. The compilation of male and female antennal ESTs represents a valuable resource for exploring the mechanisms of olfaction in S. littoralis.
PMCID: PMC3421235  PMID: 22904672
Olfactory receptor; Gustatory receptor; Odorant-binding protein; Expressed sequence tag; Lepidoptera; Spodoptera littoralis.
21.  Innate Recognition of Pheromone and Food Odors in Moths: A Common Mechanism in the Antennal Lobe? 
The survival of an animal often depends on an innate response to a particular sensory stimulus. For an adult male moth, two categories of odors are innately attractive: pheromone released by conspecific females, and the floral scents of certain, often co-evolved, plants. These odors consist of multiple volatiles in characteristic mixtures. Here, we review evidence that both categories of odors are processed as sensory objects, and we suggest a mechanism in the primary olfactory center, the antennal lobe (AL), that encodes the configuration of these mixtures and may underlie recognition of innately attractive odors. In the pheromone system, mixtures of two or three volatiles elicit upwind flight. Peripheral changes are associated with behavioral changes in speciation, and suggest the existence of a pattern recognition mechanism for pheromone mixtures in the AL. Moths are similarly innately attracted to certain floral scents. Though floral scents consist of multiple volatiles that activate a broad array of receptor neurons, only a smaller subset, numerically comparable to pheromone mixtures, is necessary and sufficient to elicit behavior. Both pheromone and floral scent mixtures that produce attraction to the odor source elicit synchronous action potentials in particular populations of output (projection) neurons (PNs) in the AL. We propose a model in which the synchronous output of a population of PNs encodes the configuration of an innately attractive mixture, and thus comprises an innate mechanism for releasing odor-tracking behavior. The particular example of olfaction in moths may inform the general question of how sensory objects trigger innate responses.
PMCID: PMC2955495  PMID: 20953251
floral scent; moths; neuroethology; olfaction; pheromone; sensory coding; sensory object; synchrony
22.  Complex Odor from Plants under Attack: Herbivore's Enemies React to the Whole, Not Its Parts 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e21742.
Insect herbivory induces plant odors that attract herbivores' natural enemies. Assuming this attraction emerges from individual compounds, genetic control over odor emission of crops may provide a rationale for manipulating the distribution of predators used for pest control. However, studies on odor perception in vertebrates and invertebrates suggest that olfactory information processing of mixtures results in odor percepts that are a synthetic whole and not a set of components that could function as recognizable individual attractants. Here, we ask if predators respond to herbivore-induced attractants in odor mixtures or to odor mixture as a whole.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We studied a system consisting of Lima bean, the herbivorous mite Tetranychus urticae and the predatory mite Phytoseiulus persimilis. We found that four herbivore-induced bean volatiles are not attractive in pure form while a fifth, methyl salicylate (MeSA), is. Several reduced mixtures deficient in one component compared to the full spider-mite induced blend were not attractive despite the presence of MeSA indicating that the predators cannot detect this component in these odor mixtures. A mixture of all five HIPV is most attractive, when offered together with the non-induced odor of Lima bean. Odors that elicit no response in their pure form were essential components of the attractive mixture.
We conclude that the predatory mites perceive odors as a synthetic whole and that the hypothesis that predatory mites recognize attractive HIPV in odor mixtures is unsupported.
PMCID: PMC3135591  PMID: 21765908
23.  Receptors and neurons for fly odors in Drosophila 
Current biology : CB  2007;17(7):606-612.
Remarkably little is known about the molecular and cellular basis of mate recognition in Drosophila [1]. We systematically examine one of the three major types of sensilla that house olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) on the Drosophila antenna, the trichoid sensilla, by electrophysiological analysis. We find that none respond strongly to food odors, but all respond to fly odors. Two subtypes of trichoid sensilla contain ORNs that respond to cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), an anti-aphrodisiac pheromone present in males and transferred to females during mating [2–4]. All trichoid sensilla yield responses to a male extract; a subset yield responses to a virgin female extract as well. Thus males can be distinguished from virgin females by the activity they elicit among the trichoid ORN population. We then systematically test all members of the Odor receptor (Or) gene family [5–7] that are expressed in trichoid sensilla [8], using an in vivo expression system [9]. Four receptors respond to fly odors in this system: two respond to extracts of both males and virgin females, and two respond to cVA. We propose a model for how these receptors might be used by a male to distinguish suitable from unsuitable mating partners through a simple logic.
PMCID: PMC1876700  PMID: 17363256
24.  Identification and Characterization of an Antennae-Specific Aldehyde Oxidase from the Navel Orangeworm 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67794.
Antennae-specific odorant-degrading enzymes (ODEs) are postulated to inactivate odorant molecules after they convey their signal. Different classes of insect ODEs are specific to esters, alcohols, and aldehydes – the major functional groups of female-produced, hydrophobic sex pheromones from moth species. Esterases that rapidly inactive acetate and other esters have been well-studied, but less is known about aldehyde oxidases (AOXs). Here we report cloning of an aldehyde oxidase, AtraAOX2, from the antennae of the navel orangeworm (NOW), Amyelois transitella, and the first activity characterization of a recombinant insect AOX. AtraAOX2 gene spans 3,813 bp and encodes a protein with 1,270 amino acid residues. AtraAOX2 cDNA was expressed in baculovirus-infected insect Sf21 cells as a ≈280 kDa homodimer with 140 kDa subunits. Recombinant AtraAOX2 degraded Z11Z13–16Ald and plant volatile aldehydes as substrates. However, as expected for aldehyde oxidases, recombinant AtraAOX2 did not show specificity for Z11Z13–16Ald, the main constituent of the sex pheromone, but showed high activity for plant volatile aldehydes. Our data suggest AtraAOX2 might be involved in degradation of a diversity of aldehydes including sex pheromones, plant-derived semiochemicals, and chemical cues for oviposition sites. Additionally, AtraAOX2 could protect the insect's olfactory system from xenobiotics, including pesticides that might reach the sensillar lymph surrounding the olfactory receptor neurons.
PMCID: PMC3691121  PMID: 23826341
25.  Sensory Cell Proliferation within the Olfactory Epithelium of Developing Adult Manduca sexta (Lepidoptera) 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(2):e215.
Insects detect a multitude of odors using a broad array of phenotypically distinct olfactory organs referred to as olfactory sensilla. Each sensillum contains one to several sensory neurons and at least three support cells; these cells arise from mitotic activities from one or a small group of defined precursor cells. Sensilla phenotypes are defined by distinct morphologies, and specificities to specific odors; these are the consequence of developmental programs expressed by associated neurons and support cells, and by selection and expression of subpopulations of olfactory genes encoding such proteins as odor receptors, odorant binding proteins, and odor degrading enzymes.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We are investigating development of the olfactory epithelium of adult M. sexta, identifying events which might establish sensilla phenotypes. In the present study, antennal tissue was examined during the first three days of an 18 day development, a period when sensory mitotic activity was previously reported to occur. Each antenna develops as a cylinder with an outward facing sensory epithelium divided into approximately 80 repeat units or annuli. Mitotic proliferation of sensory cells initiated about 20–24 hrs after pupation (a.p.), in pre-existing zones of high density cells lining the proximal and distal borders of each annulus. These high density zones were observed as early as two hr. a.p., and expanded with mitotic activity to fill the mid-annular regions by about 72 hrs a.p. Mitotic activity initiated at a low rate, increasing dramatically after 40–48 hrs a.p.; this activity was enhanced by ecdysteroids, but did not occur in animals entering pupal diapause (which is also ecdysteroid sensitive).
Sensory proliferation initiates in narrow zones along the proximal and distal borders of each annulus; these zones rapidly expand to fill the mid-annular regions. These zones exist prior to any mitotic activity as regions of high density cells which form either at or prior to pupation. Mitotic sensitivity to ecdysteroids may be a regulatory mechanism coordinating olfactory development with the developmental choice of diapause entry.
PMCID: PMC1789077  PMID: 17299595

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