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
Many aspects of social behavior are controlled by sex-specific pheromones. Gender-appropriate production of the sexually dimorphic transcription factors doublesex and fruitless controls sexual differentiation and sexual behavior. miR-124 mutant males exhibited increased male–male courtship and reduced reproductive success with females. Females showed a strong preference for wild-type males over miR-124 mutant males when given a choice of mates. These effects were traced to aberrant pheromone production. We identified the sex-specific splicing factor transformer as a functionally significant target of miR-124 in this context, suggesting a role for miR-124 in the control of male sexual differentiation and behavior, by limiting inappropriate expression of the female form of transformer. miR-124 is required to ensure fidelity of gender-appropriate pheromone production in males. Use of a microRNA provides a secondary means of controlling the cascade of sex-specific splicing events that controls sexual differentiation in Drosophila.
Like many animals, the fruit fly Drosophila uses pheromones to influence sexual behaviour, with males and females producing different versions of these chemicals. One of the pheromones produced by male flies, for example, is a chemical called 11-cis-vaccenyl-acetate (cVA), which is an aphrodisiac for female flies and an anti-aphrodisiac for males.
The production of the correct pheromones in each sex is genetically controlled using a process called splicing that allows a single gene to be expressed as two or more different proteins. A variety of proteins called splicing factors ensures that splicing results in the production of the correct pheromones for each sex. Sometimes, however, the process by which sex genes are expressed as proteins can be ‘leaky’, which results in the wrong proteins being produced for one or both sexes.
Small RNA molecules called microRNAs act in some genetic pathways to limit the leaky expression of genes, and a microRNA called miR-124 carries out this function in the developing brain Drosophila. Now, Weng et al. show that miR-124 also helps to regulate sex-specific splicing and thereby to control pheromone production and sexual behaviour.
Mutant male flies lacking miR-124 were less successful than wild-type males at mating with female flies, and were almost always rejected if a female fly was given a choice between a mutant male and a wild-type male. Moreover, both wild-type and mutant male flies were more likely to initiate courtship behaviour towards another male if it lacked miR-124 than if it did not.
The mutant male flies produced less cVA than wild-type males, but more of other pheromones called pentacosenes, which is consistent with the observed behaviour because cVA attracts females and repels males, whereas pentacosenes act as aphrodisiacs for male flies in large amounts. Weng et al. showed that these changes in the production of pheromones were caused by an increased expression of the female version of a splicing factor called transformer in the mutant males, but further work is needed to understand this process in detail.
microRNA; pheromome; behaviour; genetics; selection; evolution; D. melanogaster
Pheromones are used for conspecific communication by many animals. In Drosophila, the volatile male-specific pheromone 11-cis vaccenyl acetate (cVA) supplies an important signal for gender recognition. Sensing of cVA by the olfactory system depends on multiple components, including an olfactory receptor (OR67d), the co-receptor ORCO, and an odorant binding protein (LUSH). In addition, a CD36 related protein, sensory neuron membrane protein 1 (SNMP1) is also involved in cVA detection. Loss of SNMP1 has been reported to eliminate cVA responsiveness, and to greatly increase spontaneous activity of OR67d-expressing olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs). Here, we found the snmp11 mutation did not abolish cVA responsiveness or cause high spontaneous activity. The cVA responses in snmp1 mutants displayed a delayed onset, and took longer to reach peak activity than wild-type. Most strikingly, loss of SNMP1 caused a dramatic delay in signal termination. The profound impairment in signal inactivation accounted for the previously reported “spontaneous activity,” which represented continuous activation following transient exposure to environmental cVA. We introduced the silk moth receptor (BmOR1) in OR67d ORNs of snmp11 flies and found that the ORNs showed slow activation and deactivation kinetics in response to the BmOR1 ligand (bombykol). We expressed the bombykol receptor complex in Xenopus oocytes in the presence or absence of the silk moth SNMP1 (BmSNMP) and found that addition of BmSNMP accelerated receptor activation and deactivation. Our results thus clarify SNMP1 as an important player required for the rapid kinetics of the pheromone response in insects.
Pheromones are chemicals produced and released by animals for social communication with other members of their species. For example, male fruit flies produce a volatile pheromone that is sensed by both males and females, and which functions in gender recognition. This volatile male pheromone, called 11-cis vaccenyl acetate, is detected by olfactory neurons housed in hair-like appendages on the insect antenna. To effectively sense the pheromone, especially during navigation, the olfactory neurons must respond rapidly, and then quickly inactivate after the stimulation ceases. We found that a CD36-related protein referred to as sensory neuron membrane protein 1 (SNMP1) was required by olfactory neurons for the rapid on and off responses to 11-cis vaccenyl acetate. Loss of SNMP1 reduced the initial sensitivity to the pheromone, and then caused a strikingly slower termination of the response after removal of the pheromone. Our findings demonstrate that SNMP1 is a critical player that allows olfactory neurons to achieve sensitive and rapid on and off responses to a pheromone that is critical for social interactions in insects.
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.
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.
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.
Gustatory pheromones play an essential role in shaping the behavior of many organisms. However, little is known about the processing of taste pheromones in higher order brain centers. Here, we describe a male-specific gustatory circuit in Drosophila that underlies the detection of the anti-aphrodisiac pheromone (3R,11Z,19Z)-3-acetoxy-11,19-octacosadien-1-ol (CH503). Using behavioral analysis, genetic manipulation, and live calcium imaging, we show that Gr68a-expressing neurons on the forelegs of male flies exhibit a sexually dimorphic physiological response to the pheromone and relay information to the central brain via peptidergic neurons. The release of tachykinin from 8 to 10 cells within the subesophageal zone is required for the pheromone-triggered courtship suppression. Taken together, this work describes a neuropeptide-modulated central brain circuit that underlies the programmed behavioral response to a gustatory sex pheromone. These results will allow further examination of the molecular basis by which innate behaviors are modulated by gustatory cues and physiological state.
In many species of animals, the male decides to pursue a potential female mate based on how she smells and tastes. Powerful chemical signals known as pheromones control this decision. When a male fruit fly mates with a female fruit fly, he often leaves behind an anti-aphrodisiac pheromone that, when males taste it, deters them from mating with the female. Until recently, however, little was known about how the brain processes information from such taste pheromones.
Now, Shankar et al. have investigated this problem in a series of experiments with normal and genetically modified flies. In the first experiment normal male flies were exposed to the chemical on its own, to the chemical on a sample of female skin, and to the chemical on actual female flies. The male flies did not respond to the pheromone on its own, but they did respond to it in the other two scenarios.
Next, Shankar et al. used genetic techniques to eliminate individual neurons in the male flies and then observed how the loss of specific neurons influenced the response of the fly to the pheromone. These experiments showed that male flies have a special group of sensory neurons in their legs that detect the chemical and then send an electrical signal to the brain. Shankar et al. then went on to identify a brain circuit consisting of 8–10 neurons that responds to this signal and to show that the release of a neurochemical called Tachykinin is essential in communicating the signal.
In a final set of experiments, Shankar et al. introduced two sensors—one in the sensory neurons in the legs, the other in the 8–10 neurons in the brain—that light up when the neurons in that region are close enough to each other to form connections. The results suggest that the sensory neurons in the legs form connections with the 8–10 neurons in the brain.
A challenge for the future is to understand how the nervous system combines different social cues and information about the physiological state of the animal, and how this influences the decision to mate.
CH503; courtship; behavior; anti-aphrodisiac; NPF; calcium imaging; D. melanogaster
Individuals can make choices based on information learned from others, a phenomenon called social learning. How observers differentiate between which individual they should or should not learn from is, however, poorly understood. Here, we showed that Drosophila melanogaster females can influence the choice of egg-laying site of other females through pheromonal marking. Mated females mark territories of high quality food by ejecting surplus male sperm containing the aggregation pheromone cis-11-vaccenyl acetate (cVA) and, in addition, deposit several sex- and species-specific cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) pheromones. These pheromonal cues affect the choices of other females, which respond by preferentially laying eggs on the marked food. This system benefits both senders and responders, as communal egg laying increases offspring survival. Virgin females, however, do not elicit a change in the egg-laying decision of mated females, even when food has been supplemented with ejected sperm from mated females, thus indicating the necessity for additional cues. Genetic ablation of either a female’s CHC pheromones or those of their mate results in loss of ability of mated females to attract other females. We conclude that mated females use a pheromonal marking system, comprising cVA acquired from male ejaculate with sex- and species-specific CHCs produced by both mates, to indicate egg-laying sites. This system ensures information reliability because mated, but not virgin, females have both the ability to generate the pheromone blend that attracts other flies to those sites and a direct interest in egg-laying site quality.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10886-016-0681-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Drosophila melanogaster; Communication; Social learning; Oviposition; Pheromones
The response of individual animals to mating signals depends on the sexual identity of the individual and the genetics of the mating targets, which represent the mating social context (social environment). However, how social signals are sensed and integrated during mating decisions remains a mystery. One of the models for understanding mating behaviors in molecular and cellular terms is the male courtship ritual in the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). We have recently shown that a subset of gustatory receptor neurons (GRNs) that are enriched in the male appendages and express the ion channel ppk23 play a major role in the initiation and maintenance of male courtship via the perception of cuticular contact pheromones, and are likely to represent the main chemosensory pathway that influences mating decisions by males. Here we show that genetic feminization of ppk23-expressing GRNs in male flies resulted in a significant increase in male–male sexual attraction without an apparent impact on sexual attraction to females. Furthermore, we show that this increase in male–male sexual attraction is sensory specific, which can be modulated by variable social contexts. Finally, we show that feminization of ppk23-expressing sensory neurons lead to major transcriptional shifts, which may explain the altered interpretation of the social environment by feminized males. Together, these data indicate that the sexual cellular identity of pheromone sensing GRNs plays a major role in how individual flies interpret their social environment in the context of mating decisions.
Fruit fly; Courtship; ppk23; Poxn; transformer; DEG/ENaC
Adult Drosophila melanogaster locate food resources by using distinct olfactory cues that often are associated with the fermentation of fruit. However, in addition to being an odorous food source and providing a possible site for oviposition, fermenting fruit also provides a physical substrate upon which flies can attract and court a potential mate. In this study, we demonstrate that Drosophila adults are able to recruit additional flies to a food source by covering the exposed surface area with fecal spots, and that this recruitment is mediated via olfactory receptors (Ors). Analyses of the deposited frass material demonstrates that frass contains several previously studied pheromone components, such as methyl laurate (ML), methyl myristate (MM), methyl palmitate (MP), and 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), in addition to several cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) that are known to be behaviorally active. Moreover, this study also demonstrates that adult feeding is increased in the presence of frass, although it appears that Ors are less likely to mediate this phenomenon. In summary, the frass deposited by the fly onto the fruit provides both pheromone and CHC cues that lead to increased feeding and aggregation in Drosophila. This research is the first step in examining Drosophila frass as an important chemical signature that provides information about both the sex and the species of the fly that generated the fecal spots.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10886-016-0737-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Olfactory; Gustatory; Chemical ecology; Drosophila; Frass; Feces; Pheromones; Insect behavior
Animals use olfactory cues for navigating complex environments. Food odors in particular provide crucial information regarding potential foraging sites. Many behaviors occur at food sites, yet how food odors regulate such behaviors at these sites is unclear. Using Drosophila melanogaster as an animal model, we found that males deposit the pheromone 9-tricosene upon stimulation with the food-odor apple cider vinegar. This pheromone acts as a potent aggregation pheromone and as an oviposition guidance cue for females. We use genetic, molecular, electrophysiological, and behavioral approaches to show that 9-tricosene activates antennal basiconic Or7a receptors, a receptor activated by many alcohols and aldehydes such as the green leaf volatile E2-hexenal. We demonstrate that loss of Or7a positive neurons or the Or7a receptor abolishes aggregation behavior and oviposition site-selection towards 9-tricosene and E2-hexenal. 9-Tricosene thus functions via Or7a to link food-odor perception with aggregation and egg-laying decisions.
Animals rely on their sense of smell to navigate their environments; for example, the smell of food attracts animals to particular locations. These food-rich sites are also popular places for meeting, mating, and rearing offspring. Scent molecules emitted by animals can also attract others to a particular location or affect their behaviour. These molecules are known as pheromones.
Little is understood about how cues from food and pheromones interact to influence animal behavior. Studies of the Drosophila species of fruit fly have been conducted to tease out these interactions. Fruit flies are attracted to the smell of food—particularly overripe or rotting fruit—and often congregate at a food source to mate and lay their eggs. But whether it is the food itself or other cues that trigger these behaviors is not clear.
Now, Lin et al. reveal that male fruit flies emit a pheromone in response to the smell of food. This pheromone attracts females to the food to mate and encourages the females to lay their eggs at the food-rich site. This allows the male fly to have some say as to where his offspring will be laid and also increases the chances that his offspring will survive.
Using genetic and other experiments, Lin et al. found that the pheromone is detected by a receptor on the antennae of the female flies. This stimulates a specific type of brain cell that causes the female to lay her eggs at the site where the pheromone has been deposited. A chemical released by rotting fruit also stimulates these receptors and encourages the females to congregate and lay eggs.
The body of a male fly is coated by many different pheromones, yet he deposits only a select few upon smelling a food odor. How this occurs remains to be determined, but suggests that different pheromones might be localized to different body parts. By rubbing just those parts onto their surroundings, the male might be able to deposit a specific pheromone. How food odors specifically trigger this response, or if other flying insects also deposit pheromones in response to food odors, remains to be determined.
olfaction; pheromone; oviposition; aggregation; D. melanogaster
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
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.
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.
A male-specific component, 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA) works as an anti-aphrodisiac pheromone in Drosophila melanogaster. The presence of cVA on a male suppresses the courtship motivation of other males and contributes to suppression of male-male homosexual courtship, while the absence of cVA on a female stimulates the sexual motivation of nearby males and enhances the male-female interaction. However, little is known how a male distinguishes the presence or absence of cVA on a target fly from either self-produced cVA or secondhand cVA from other males in the vicinity. In this study, we demonstrate that male flies have keen sensitivity to cVA; therefore, the presence of another male in the area reduces courtship toward a female. This reduced level of sexual motivation, however, could be overcome by pretest odor exposure via olfactory habituation to cVA. Real-time imaging of cVA-responsive sensory neurons using the neural activity sensor revealed that prolonged exposure to cVA decreased the levels of cVA responses in the primary olfactory center. Pharmacological and genetic screening revealed that signal transduction via GABAA receptors contributed to this olfactory habituation. We also found that the habituation experience increased the copulation success of wild-type males in a group. In contrast, transgenic males, in which GABA input in a small subset of local neurons was blocked by RNAi, failed to acquire the sexual advantage conferred by habituation. Thus, we illustrate a novel phenomenon in which olfactory habituation positively affects sexual capability in a competitive environment.
Pheromones regulate male social behaviors in Drosophila, but the identities and behavioral role(s) of these chemosensory signals, and how they interact, are incompletely understood. Here we show that (Z)-7-tricosene (7-T), a male-enriched cuticular hydrocarbon (CH) previously shown to inhibit male-male courtship, is also essential for normal levels of aggression. The opposite influences of 7-T on aggression and courtship are independent, but both require the gustatory receptor Gr32a. Surprisingly, sensitivity to 7-T is required for the aggression-promoting effect of 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), an olfactory pheromone, but 7-T sensitivity is independent of cVA. 7-T and cVA therefore regulate aggression in a hierarchical manner. Furthermore, the increased courtship caused by depletion of male CHs is suppressed by a mutation in the olfactory receptor Or47b. Thus, male social behaviors are controlled by gustatory pheromones that promote and suppress aggression and courtship, respectively, and whose influences are dominant to olfactory pheromones that enhance these behaviors.
The ability to distinguish males from females is essential for productive mate selection and species propagation. Recent studies in Drosophila have identified different classes of contact chemosensory neurons that detect female or male pheromones and influence courtship decisions. Here, we examine central neural pathways in the male brain that process female and male pheromones using anatomical, calcium imaging, optogenetic, and behavioral studies. We find that sensory neurons that detect female pheromones, but not male pheromones, activate a novel class of neurons in the ventral nerve cord to cause activation of P1 neurons, male-specific command neurons that trigger courtship. In addition, sensory neurons that detect male pheromones, as well as those that detect female pheromones, activate central mAL neurons to inhibit P1. These studies demonstrate that the balance of excitatory and inhibitory drives onto central courtship-promoting neurons controls mating decisions.
Courtship displays are seen throughout the animal kingdom. For example, male birds-of-paradise are perhaps best known for the elaborate dances they use to attract a mate. Male fruit flies, belonging to the species Drosophila melanogaster, also perform courtship toward female flies. However, male flies do not court other males. Previous studies have shown that sex-specific chemical signals (or pheromones) are important cues that males use to direct courtship towards females. Researchers have previously identified two sets of sensory neurons that detect pheromones: one set detects female pheromones and promotes courtship, while the other detects male pheromones and inhibits courtship. However it was unclear how these sensory neurons controlled courtship behavior.
Now, Kallman et al. have studied the circuits of neurons in the fruit fly that promote or inhibit courtship when a fly detects a pheromone. The experiments identified several pathways of neurons in the brain of male Drosophila that respond to female and male pheromones. These pathways send signals that either excite or inhibit a central target, called P1 neurons. Female pheromones activated a pathway that activates the P1 neurons, whereas male pheromones activate another pathway that inhibits the P1 neurons. Kallman et al. suggest that the balance of these excitatory and inhibitory signals controls a fly’s decision to court.
Following on from this work one of the next challenges will be to identify the neural circuits that act downstream of the P1 neurons to control courtship. Future studies could also explore how P1 neurons integrate signals from different senses.
pheromones; neural circuits; sensory processing; mating behavior; D. melanogaster
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.
Pheromones play an important role in the behavior, ecology, and evolution of many organisms. The structure of many insect pheromones typically consists of a hydrocarbon backbone, occasionally modified with various functional oxygen groups. Here we show that sex-specific triacylclyerides (TAGs) are broadly conserved across the subgenus Drosophila in 11 species and represent a novel class of pheromones that has been largely overlooked. In desert-adapted drosophilids, 13 different TAGs are secreted exclusively by males from the ejaculatory bulb, transferred to females during mating, and function synergistically to inhibit courtship from other males. Sex-specific TAGs are comprised of at least one short branched tiglic acid and a long linear fatty acyl component, an unusual structural motif that has not been reported before in other natural products. The diversification of chemical cues used by desert-adapted Drosophila as pheromones may be related to their specialized diet of fermenting cacti.
For animals, the ultimate purpose of life is to have sex, as nothing is more important than passing down your genes to future generations. A wide range of strategies are therefore employed throughout nature to maximize the chances of sexual success, from ostentatious courtship rituals to the subtle subliminal signals sent out using chemicals called pheromones. Plants and animals release pheromones to influence the behavior of other plants and animals, often without the recipient being aware of it.
Hundreds of different insect pheromones have been discovered. Fruit flies release a number of different pheromones, all with similar chemical structures. Now, Chin et al. have discovered that male flies belonging to several species of fruit fly that live in the desert release chemicals called triacylglycerides (TAGs), which are commonly used for energy storage by many organisms as pheromones. During sex, the male fly rubs the TAGs onto the body of the female, which makes her less attractive to other male flies for several hours, thus increasing his chances of parenthood and passing his genes to future generations.
TAGs are also found in other insect species, but have been largely overlooked as pheromones. Moreover, the TAGs discovered by Chin et al. have an unusual structure, not previously seen in nature, which may result from the diet of fermenting cacti the desert-dwelling fruit flies enjoy.
ozone-induced dissociation; mass spectrometry; behavior; D. arizonae; D. mojavensis; laser desorption ionzation; D. melanogaster
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.
Insect cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) prevent desiccation and serve as chemical signals that mediate social interactions. Drosophila melanogaster CHCs have been studied extensively, but the genetic basis for individual variation in CHC composition is largely unknown. We quantified variation in CHC profiles in the D. melanogaster Genetic Reference Panel (DGRP) and identified novel CHCs. We used principal component (PC) analysis to extract PCs that explain the majority of CHC variation and identified polymorphisms in or near 305 and 173 genes in females and males, respectively, associated with variation in these PCs. In addition, 17 DGRP lines contain the functional Desat2 allele characteristic of African and Caribbean D. melanogaster females (more 5,9-C27:2 and less 7,11-C27:2, female sex pheromone isomers). Disruption of expression of 24 candidate genes affected CHC composition in at least one sex. These genes are associated with fatty acid metabolism and represent mechanistic targets for individual variation in CHC composition.
The outermost layer of an insect’s body is called the epicuticle and is made of a blend of fat molecules. “Cuticular hydrocarbons” (or CHCs) are the most common fat molecules in the epicuticle, and play an important role in protecting the insect’s body from harsh, dry habitats. CHCs also have other roles in insect behavior. For example, these molecules act as chemical cues when insects search for mates (i.e. pheromones), and they can even contribute to camouflage.
Insects are amongst the most diverse groups of animals on Earth, and different species have different blends of CHC molecules in their epicuticles. Fruit flies are a useful model to understand the genetics of CHC production, including CHCs that act as sex pheromones. Previous research has analyzed the CHCs made by both sexes in several fruit fly strains. However this work was unable to uncover which genes influence how much of a given CHC an individual fly will make.
Dembeck et al. have now looked into CHC production in a collection of 205 different fly strains, all of which have already had their total genetic material sequenced and studied. Comparing these known sequences and looking for associations between genetic differences and particular CHCs uncovered 24 genes that may be involved in CHC manufacture. Only six of the genes had been identified previously. Dembeck et al. found that interfering with the activity of any of the 24 genes had a knock-on effect on many other CHCs present in the flies’ epicuticle.
These 24 genes could to be pieced together in a network that is needed to make and recycle CHCs. The complexity and flexibility of this network can explain in part how insects have been able to build epicuticles for almost every environment. These data set the stage for future work directed towards understanding the evolutionary significance of variation in CHC composition in many fruit fly populations.
genome wide associaiton study; Drosophila genetic reference Panel; cuticular lipids; African Drosophila; multivariate analysis; D. melanogaster
In Drosophila melanogaster, gender-specific behavioural responses to the male-produced sex pheromone cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA) rely on sexually dimorphic, third-order neural circuits. We show that nutritional state in female flies modulates cVA perception in first-order olfactory neurons. Starvation increases, and feeding reduces attraction to food odour, in both sexes. Adding cVA to food odour, however, maintains attraction in fed females, while it has no effect in males. Upregulation of sensitivity and behavioural responsiveness to cVA in fed females is paralleled by a strong increase in receptivity to male courtship. Functional imaging of the antennal lobe (AL), the olfactory centre in the insect brain, shows that olfactory input to DA1 and VM2 glomeruli is also modulated by starvation. Knocking down insulin receptors in neurons converging onto the DA1 glomerulus suggests that insulin-signalling partly controls pheromone perception in the AL, and adjusts cVA attraction according to nutritional state and sexual receptivity in Drosophila females.
Social interactions in insects are driven by conspecific chemical signals that are detected via olfactory and gustatory neurons. Odorant binding proteins (Obps) transport volatile odorants to chemosensory receptors, but their effects on behaviors remain poorly characterized. Here, we report that RNAi knockdown of Obp56h gene expression in Drosophila melanogaster enhances mating behavior by reducing courtship latency. The change in mating behavior that results from inhibition of Obp56h expression is accompanied by significant alterations in cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) composition, including reduction in 5-tricosene (5-T), an inhibitory sex pheromone produced by males that increases copulation latency during courtship. Whole genome RNA sequencing confirms that expression of Obp56h is virtually abolished in Drosophila heads. Inhibition of Obp56h expression also affects expression of other chemoreception genes, including upregulation of lush in both sexes and Obp83ef in females, and reduction in expression of Obp19b and Or19b in males. In addition, several genes associated with lipid metabolism, which underlies the production of cuticular hydrocarbons, show altered transcript abundances. Our data show that modulation of mating behavior through reduction of Obp56h is accompanied by altered cuticular hydrocarbon profiles and implicate 5-T as a possible ligand for Obp56h.
odorant binding protein; olfaction; cuticular hydrocarbon; pheromone; 5-tricosene; FlyBook
In insects, sexual behavior depends on chemical and non-chemical cues that might play an important role in sexual isolation. In this review, we present current knowledge about sexual behavior in the Drosophila genus. We describe courtship and signals involved in sexual communication, with a special focus on sex pheromones. We examine the role of cuticular hydrocarbons as sex pheromones, their implication in sexual isolation, and their evolution. Finally, we discuss the roles of male cuticular non-hydrocarbon pheromones that act after mating: cis-vaccenyl acetate, developing on its controversial role in courtship behavior and long-chain acetyldienylacetates and triacylglycerides, which act as anti-aphrodisiacs in mated females.
Drosophila; courtship; pheromones; cis-vaccenyl acetate