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.
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
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.
courtship; Drosophila; olfaction; receptor; nervous system
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
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.
Sexual behavior requires animals to distinguish between the sexes and to respond appropriately to each of them. In Drosophila melanogaster, as in many insects, cuticular hydrocarbons are thought to be involved in sex recognition and in mating behavior, but there is no direct neuronal evidence of their pheromonal effect. Using behavioral and electrophysiological measures of responses to natural and synthetic compounds, we show that Z-7-tricosene, a Drosophila male cuticular hydrocarbon, acts as a sex pheromone and inhibits male-male courtship. These data provide the first direct demonstration that an insect cuticular hydrocarbon is detected as a sex pheromone. Intriguingly, we show that a particular type of gustatory neurons of the labial palps respond both to Z-7-tricosene and to bitter stimuli. Cross-adaptation between Z-7-tricosene and bitter stimuli further indicates that these two very different substances are processed by the same neural pathways. Furthermore, the two substances induced similar behavioral responses both in courtship and feeding tests. We conclude that the inhibitory pheromone tastes bitter to the fly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most living organisms use pheromones for inter-individual communication. In Drosophila melanogaster flies, several pheromones perceived either by contact/at a short distance (cuticular hydrocarbons, CHs), or at a longer distance (cis-vaccenyl acetate, cVA), affect courtship and mating behaviours. However, it has not previously been possible to precisely identify all potential pheromonal compounds and simultaneously monitor their variation on a time scale. To overcome this limitation, we combined Solid Phase Micro-Extraction with gas-chromatography coupled with mass-spectrometry. This allowed us (i) to identify 59 cuticular compounds, including 17 new CHs; (ii) to precisely quantify the amount of each compound that could be detected by another fly, and (iii) to measure the variation of these substances as a function of aging and mating. Sex-specific variation appeared with age, while mating affected cuticular compounds in both sexes with three possible patterns: variation was (i) reciprocal in the two sexes, suggesting a passive mechanical transfer during mating, (ii) parallel in both sexes, such as for cVA which strikingly appeared during mating, or (iii) unilateral, presumably as a result of sexual interaction. We provide a complete reassessment of all Drosophila CHs and suggest that the chemical conversation between male and female flies is far more complex than is generally accepted. We conclude that focusing on individual compounds will not provide a satisfactory understanding of the evolution and function of chemical communication in Drosophila.
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.
carboxylesterase; esterase 6; olfaction; pheromone; signal termination
Mechanisms for identifying appropriate mating partners are required for any species to survive. In many types of animals, males employ multiple sensory modalities to initially search for females and to subsequently determine if they are fit and/or receptive. In this paper we will detail the multiple types of sensory information that are used to initiate and drive courtship in Drosophila melanogaster and discuss the importance of context in the interpretation of chemosensory cues. We find that food-related olfactory cues increase the salience of the aversive pheromone cis-vaccenyl acetate.
Drosophila; olfaction; gustation; hearing; cis-vaccenyl acetate; pheromone
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.
Trimeric sodium channels of the DEG/ENaC family have important roles in neurons, but the specific functions of different subunits present in heteromeric channels are poorly understood. We previously reported that the Drosophila DEG/ENaC subunit Ppk25 is essential in a small subset of gustatory neurons for activation of male courtship behavior, likely through detection of female pheromones. Here we show that, like mutations in ppk25, mutations in another Drosophila DEG/ENaC subunit, nope, specifically impair male courtship of females. nope regulatory sequences drive reporter gene expression in gustatory neurons of the labellum, wings and legs, including all gustatory neurons in which ppk25 function is required for male courtship of females. In addition, gustatory-specific knockdown of nope impairs male courtship. Further, the impaired courtship response of nope mutant males to females is rescued by targeted expression of nope in the subset of gustatory neurons in which ppk25 functions. However, nope and ppk25 have non-redundant functions, as targeted expression of ppk25 does not compensate for the lack of nope and vice versa. Moreover, Nope and Ppk25 form specific complexes when co-expressed in cultured cells. Together, these data indicate that the Nope and Ppk25 subunits have specific, non-redundant functions in a subset of gustatory neurons required for activation of male courtship in response to females, and suggest the hypothesis that Nope and Ppk25 function as subunits of a heteromeric DEG/ENaC channel required for gustatory detection of female pheromones.
Soluble circulating proteins play an important role in the regulation of mating behavior in Drosophila melanogaster. However, how these factors signal through the blood–brain barrier (bbb) to interact with the sex-specific brain circuits that control courtship is unknown. Here we show that male identity of the blood–brain barrier is necessary and that male-specific factors in the bbb are physiologically required for normal male courtship behavior. Feminization of the bbb of adult males significantly reduces male courtship. We show that the bbb–specific G-protein coupled receptor moody and bbb–specific Go signaling in adult males are necessary for normal courtship. These data identify sex-specific factors and signaling processes in the bbb as important regulators of male mating behavior.
Complex behaviors such as mating behavior are controlled by the brain. Ensembles of brain cells work in networks to ensure proper behavior at the right time. While the state of these cells plays an important role in whether and how the behavior is displayed, information from outside the brain is also required. Often, this information is provided by hormones that are present in the circulating fluid (such as the blood). However, the brain is protected by a layer of very tight cells, the so-called blood–brain barrier, that keeps unwanted molecules out. So how then do hormones and other regulatory factors “talk” to the brain? We are studying this question by examining the mating behavior of males of a model organism, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. We have found that the blood–brain barrier cells themselves contain male-specific molecules that play an important role. When they are absent, courtship behavior is compromised. We have also identified how outside factors talk to the brain: by using a cellular signaling protein and a particular signaling pathway. Together they are well suited to pass on outside information to the brain network that regulates mating behavior.
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.
Remarkably little is known about the molecular and cellular basis of mate recognition in Drosophila . 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 , using an in vivo expression system . 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.
Situations requiring rapid decision-making in response to dynamic environmental demands occur repeatedly in natural environments. Neuromodulation can offer important flexibility to the output of neural networks in coping with changing conditions, but the contribution of individual neuromodulatory neurons in social behavior networks remains relatively unknown. Here we manipulate the Drosophila octopaminergic system and assay changes in adult male decision-making in courtship and aggression paradigms. When the functional state of OA neural circuits is enhanced, males exhibit elevated courtship behavior towards other males in both behavioral contexts. Eliminating the expression of the male form of the neural sex determination factor, Fruitless (FruM), in three OA suboesophageal ganglia (SOG) neurons also leads to increased male-male courtship behavior in these same contexts. We analyzed the fine anatomical structure through confocal examination of labeled single neurons to determine the arborization patterns of each of the three FruM-positive OA SOG neurons. These neurons send processes that display mirror symmetric, widely distributed arbors of endings within brain regions including the ventrolateral protocerebra, the SOG and the peri-esophageal complex. The results suggest that a small subset of OA neurons have the potential to provide male selective modulation of behavior at a single neuron level.
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.
Contact chemosensation is required for several behaviors that promote the survival of fruit flies and other insects. These include evasive behaviors such as the suppression of feeding on dangerous repellent compounds, referred to as antifeedants. Contact chemosensation also contributes to the suppression of male-male courtship. However, the identities of the gustatory receptors (GRs) required for the responses to non-volatile avoidance chemicals are largely unknown. Exceptions include GR66a and GR93a, which are required specifically to prevent ingestion of caffeine [1, 2], and GR32a, which is necessary for inhibiting male-male courtship . However, GR32a is dispensable for normal taste. Thus, distinct GRs may function in the sensing of avoidance pheromones and in detecting different subsets of antifeedants. Here, we describe the requirements for GR33a, which is expressed widely in gustatory receptor neurons (GRNs) that respond to aversive chemicals. Gr33a mutant flies were impaired in the avoidance responses to all non-volatile repellents tested, ranging from quinine to denatorium, lobeline and caffeine. Gr33a mutant males also displayed increased male-to-male courtship implying that it functioned in the detection of a repulsive male pheromone. In contrast to the broadly required olfactory receptor (OR) OR83b, which is essential for trafficking of other ORs , GR66a and GR93a were localized normally in Gr33a mutant GRNs. Thus, rather than regulating trafficking of GRs, GR33a may function as co-receptor required for sensing all non-volatile repulsive chemicals, including tastants and pheromones.
Most animal species use distinctive courship patterns to choose among potential mates. Over time, the sensory signaling and preferences used during courtship can diverge among groups that are reproductively isolated. This divergence of signal traits and preferences is thought to be an important cause of behavioral isolation during the speciation process. Here, we examine the sensory modalities used in courtship by two closely related species, Drosophila subquinaria and Drosophila recens, which overlap in geographic range and are incompletely reproductively isolated. We use observational studies of courtship patterns and manipulation of male and female sensory modalities to determine the relative roles of visual, olfactory, gustatory, and auditory signals during conspecific mate choice. We find that sex-specific, species-specific, and population-specific cues are used during mate acquisition within populations of D. subquinaria and D. recens. We identify shifts in both male and female sensory modalities between species, and also between populations of D. subquinaria. Our results indicate that divergence in mating signals and preferences have occurred on a relatively short timescale within and between these species. Finally, we suggest that because olfactory cues are essential for D. subquinaria females to mate within species, they may also underlie variation in behavioral discrimination across populations and species.
Mate choice; olfaction; premating isolation; reproductive isolation
Social interactions require knowledge of the environment and status of others, which can be acquired indirectly by observing the behavior of others. When being observed, animals can also alter their signals based on who is watching. Here we observed how male cichlid fish (Astatotilapia burtoni) behave when being watched in two different contexts. In the first, we show that aggressive and courtship behaviors displayed by subordinate males depends critically on whether dominant males can see them, and in the second, we manipulated who was watching aggressive interactions and showed that dominant males will change their behavior depending on audience composition. In both cases, when a more dominant individual is out of view and the audience consists of more subordinate individuals, those males signal key social information to females by displaying courtship and dominant behaviors. In contrast, when a dominant male is present, males cease both aggression and courtship. These data suggest that males are keenly aware of their social environment and modulate their aggressive and courtship behaviors strategically for reproductive and social advantage.
We introduce a method based on machine vision for automatically measuring aggression and courtship in Drosophila melanogaster. The genetic and neural circuit bases of these innate social behaviors are poorly understood. High-throughput behavioral screening in this genetically tractable model organism is a potentially powerful approach, but it is currently very laborious. Our system monitors interacting pairs of flies, and computes their location, orientation and wing posture. These features are used for detecting behaviors exhibited during aggression and courtship. Among these, wing threat, lunging and tussling are specific to aggression; circling, wing extension (courtship “song”) and copulation are specific to courtship; locomotion and chasing are common to both. Ethograms may be constructed automatically from these measurements, saving considerable time and effort. This technology should enable large-scale screens for genes and neural circuits controlling courtship and aggression.
Insects utilize diverse families of ion channels to respond to environmental cues and control mating, feeding, and the response to threats. Although degenerin/epithelial sodium channels (DEG/ENaC) represent one of the largest families of ion channels in Drosophila melanogaster, the physiological functions of these proteins are still poorly understood. We found that the DEG/ENaC channel ppk23 is expressed in a subpopulation of sexually dimorphic gustatory-like chemosensory bristles that are distinct from those expressing feeding-related gustatory receptors. Disrupting ppk23 or inhibiting activity of ppk23-expressing neurons did not alter gustatory responses. Instead, blocking ppk23-positive neurons or mutating the ppk23 gene delayed the initiation and reduced the intensity of male courtship. Furthermore, mutations in ppk23 altered the behavioral response of males to the female-specific aphrodisiac pheromone 7(Z), 11(Z)-Heptacosadiene. Together, these data indicate that ppk23 and the cells expressing it play an important role in the peripheral sensory system that determines sexual behavior in Drosophila.
Insects utilize diverse families of ion channels to respond to environmental cues and control mating, feeding, and the response to threats. Degenerin/epithelial sodium channels (DEG/ENaC) represent one of the largest families of ion channels in Drosophila melanogaster. However, the physiological functions of the majority of these proteins in Drosophila or any other animal are still unknown. We discovered that the DEG/ENaC channel ppk23 is expressed in a subpopulation of sexually dimorphic gustatory-like chemosensory neurons. We show that ppk23 and the neurons expressing it are important for normal male sexual behaviors, possibly via the detection of an aphrodisiac pheromone, but not for feeding decisions. Together, these data indicate that DEG/ENaC signaling plays an important role in the peripheral sensory system that determines sexual behavior in Drosophila.