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1.  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
2.  Degradation of Pheromone and Plant Volatile Components by a Same Odorant-Degrading Enzyme in the Cotton Leafworm, Spodoptera littoralis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e29147.
Odorant-Degrading Enzymes (ODEs) are supposed to be involved in the signal inactivation step within the olfactory sensilla of insects by quickly removing odorant molecules from the vicinity of the olfactory receptors. Only three ODEs have been both identified at the molecular level and functionally characterized: two were specialized in the degradation of pheromone compounds and the last one was shown to degrade a plant odorant.
Previous work has shown that the antennae of the cotton leafworm Spodoptera littoralis, a worldwide pest of agricultural crops, express numerous candidate ODEs. We focused on an esterase overexpressed in males antennae, namely SlCXE7. We studied its expression patterns and tested its catalytic properties towards three odorants, i.e. the two female sex pheromone components and a green leaf volatile emitted by host plants.
SlCXE7 expression was concomitant during development with male responsiveness to odorants and during adult scotophase with the period of male most active sexual behaviour. Furthermore, SlCXE7 transcription could be induced by male exposure to the main pheromone component, suggesting a role of Pheromone-Degrading Enzyme. Interestingly, recombinant SlCXE7 was able to efficiently hydrolyze the pheromone compounds but also the plant volatile, with a higher affinity for the pheromone than for the plant compound. In male antennae, SlCXE7 expression was associated with both long and short sensilla, tuned to sex pheromones or plant odours, respectively. Our results thus suggested that a same ODE could have a dual function depending of it sensillar localisation. Within the pheromone-sensitive sensilla, SlCXE7 may play a role in pheromone signal termination and in reduction of odorant background noise, whereas it could be involved in plant odorant inactivation within the short sensilla.
PMCID: PMC3246455  PMID: 22216190
3.  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
4.  Genomic analysis of carboxyl/cholinesterase genes in the silkworm Bombyx mori 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:377.
Carboxyl/cholinesterases (CCEs) have pivotal roles in dietary detoxification, pheromone or hormone degradation and neurodevelopment. The recent completion of genome projects in various insect species has led to the identification of multiple CCEs with unknown functions. Here, we analyzed the phylogeny, expression and genomic distribution of 69 putative CCEs in the silkworm, Bombyx mori (Lepidoptera: Bombycidae).
A phylogenetic tree of CCEs in B. mori and other lepidopteran species was constructed. The expression pattern of each B. mori CCE was also investigated by a search of an expressed sequence tag (EST) database, and the relationship between phylogeny and expression was analyzed. A large number of B. mori CCEs were identified from a midgut EST library. CCEs expressed in the midgut formed a cluster in the phylogenetic tree that included not only B. mori genes but also those of other lepidopteran species. The silkworm, and possibly also other lepidopteran species, has a large number of CCEs, and this might be a consequence of the large cluster of midgut CCEs. Investigation of intron-exon organization in B. mori CCEs revealed that their positions and splicing site phases were strongly conserved. Several B. mori CCEs, including juvenile hormone esterase, not only showed clustering in the phylogenetic tree but were also closely located on silkworm chromosomes. We investigated the phylogeny and microsynteny of neuroligins in detail, among many CCEs. Interestingly, we found the evolution of this gene appeared not to be conserved between B. mori and other insect orders.
We analyzed 69 putative CCEs from B. mori. Comparison of these CCEs with other lepidopteran CCEs indicated that they had conserved expression and function in this insect order. The analyses showed that CCEs were unevenly distributed across the genome of B. mori and suggested that neuroligins may have a distinct evolutionary history from other insect order. It is possible that such an uneven genomic distribution and a unique neuroligin evolution are shared with other lepidopteran insects. Our genomic analysis has provided novel information on the CCEs of the silkworm, which will be of value to understanding the biology, physiology and evolution of insect CCEs.
PMCID: PMC3017765  PMID: 20546589
5.  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
6.  Pheromone production, male abundance, body size, and the evolution of elaborate antennae in moths 
Ecology and Evolution  2012;2(1):227-246.
The males of some species of moths possess elaborate feathery antennae. It is widely assumed that these striking morphological features have evolved through selection for males with greater sensitivity to the female sex pheromone, which is typically released in minute quantities. Accordingly, females of species in which males have elaborate (i.e., pectinate, bipectinate, or quadripectinate) antennae should produce the smallest quantities of pheromone. Alternatively, antennal morphology may be associated with the chemical properties of the pheromone components, with elaborate antennae being associated with pheromones that diffuse more quickly (i.e., have lower molecular weights). Finally, antennal morphology may reflect population structure, with low population abundance selecting for higher sensitivity and hence more elaborate antennae. We conducted a phylogenetic comparative analysis to test these explanations using pheromone chemical data and trapping data for 152 moth species. Elaborate antennae are associated with larger body size (longer forewing length), which suggests a biological cost that smaller moth species cannot bear. Body size is also positively correlated with pheromone titre and negatively correlated with population abundance (estimated by male abundance). Removing the effects of body size revealed no association between the shape of antennae and either pheromone titre, male abundance, or mean molecular weight of the pheromone components. However, among species with elaborate antennae, longer antennae were typically associated with lower male abundances and pheromone compounds with lower molecular weight, suggesting that male distribution and a more rapidly diffusing female sex pheromone may influence the size but not the general shape of male antennae.
PMCID: PMC3297191  PMID: 22408739
Antennal morphology; forewing length; Lepidoptera; phylogenetic generalized least squares; sex pheromone
7.  A Specific Male Olfactory Sensillum Detects Behaviorally Antagonistic Hairpencil Odorants 
Within insect species, olfactory signals play a vital role in communication, particularly in the context of mating. During courtship, males of many moth species release pheromones that function as aphrodisiacs for conspecific females, or repellants to competing conspecific males. The physiology and antennal lobe projections are described of olfactory receptor neurons within an antennal sensillum present on male Heliothis virescens F. (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) moths sensitive to conspecific male H. virescens-produced pheromone components. Olfactory receptor neurons responded to hexadecanyl acetate and octadecanyl acetate hairpencil components, and Z11-hexadecenyl acetate, an odorant used by closely related heliothine species in their female produced pheromone, which is antagonistic to male H. virescens responses. This acetate-sensitive sensillum appears homologous to a sensillum type previously described in females of this species, sharing similar physiology and glomerular projection targets within the antennal lobe. Wind tunnel observations indicate that H. virescens hairpencil odors (hexadecanyl acetate, octadecanyl acetate) function to antagonize responses of conspecific males following a female sex pheromone plume. Thus, male-male flight antagonism in H. virescens appears to be mediated by this particular sensillum type.
PMCID: PMC2999402  PMID: 20334597
Heliothis virescens; Lepidoptera; courtship; behavioral antagonist; cobalt-lysine staining; antennal lobe; olfactory receptor neuron
8.  A plant factory for moth pheromone production 
Nature Communications  2014;5:3353.
Moths depend on pheromone communication for mate finding and synthetic pheromones are used for monitoring or disruption of pheromone communication in pest insects. Here we produce moth sex pheromone, using Nicotiana benthamiana as a plant factory, by transient expression of up to four genes coding for consecutive biosynthetic steps. We specifically produce multicomponent sex pheromones for two species. The fatty alcohol fractions from the genetically modified plants are acetylated to mimic the respective sex pheromones of the small ermine moths Yponomeuta evonymella and Y. padella. These mixtures are very efficient and specific for trapping of male moths, matching the activity of conventionally produced pheromones. Our long-term vision is to design tailor-made production of any moth pheromone component in genetically modified plants. Such semisynthetic preparation of sex pheromones is a novel and cost-effective way of producing moderate to large quantities of pheromones with high purity and a minimum of hazardous waste.
Pheromones can be used as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional pesticides. Here, the authors produce moth sex pheromones in Nicotiana benthamiana by transient expression and demonstrate that these pheromones are able to trap male moths as efficiently as their synthetic counterparts.
PMCID: PMC3948062  PMID: 24569486
9.  Candidate Olfaction Genes Identified within the Helicoverpa armigera Antennal Transcriptome 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e48260.
Antennal olfaction is extremely important for insect survival, mediating key behaviors such as host preference, mate choice, and oviposition site selection. Multiple antennal proteins are involved in olfactory signal transduction pathways. Of these, odorant receptors (ORs) and ionotropic receptors (IRs) confer specificity on olfactory sensory neuron responses. In this study, we identified the olfactory gene repertoire of the economically important agricultural pest moth, Helicoverpa armigera, by assembling the adult male and female antennal transcriptomes. Within the male and female antennal transcriptomes we identified a total of 47 OR candidate genes containing 6 pheromone receptor candidates. Additionally, 12 IR genes as well as 26 odorant-binding proteins and 12 chemosensory proteins were annotated. Our results allow a systematic functional analysis across much of conventional ORs repertoire and newly reported IRs mediating the key olfaction-mediated behaviors of H. armigera.
PMCID: PMC3482190  PMID: 23110222
10.  Physiological mismatching between neurons innervating olfactory glomeruli in a moth 
The primary olfactory centres of most vertebrates and most neopteran insects are characterized by the presence of spherical neuropils, glomeruli, where synaptic interactions between olfactory receptor neurons and second-order neurons take place. In the neopteran insect taxa investigated so far, receptor neurons of a specific physiological identity target one glomerulus and thus bestow a functional identity on the glomerulus. In moths, input from pheromone-specific receptor neurons is received in a male-specific structure of the antennal lobe, called the macroglomerular complex (MGC), which consists of a number of specialized glomeruli. Each glomerulus of the complex receives a set of peripheral sensory afferents that encode one of several compounds involved in sexual communication. The complex is also innervated by dendritic branches of antennal lobe output neurons called projection neurons, which transfer information from the antennal lobe to higher centres of the brain. A hypothesis stemming from earlier work on moths claims that the receptor neuron innervation pattern of the MGC should be reflected in the pattern of dendrites of projection neurons invading the different MGC glomeruli. In this study we show that in the noctuid moth Trichoplusia ni, as in several other noctuid moth species, this hypothesis does not hold. The degree of matching between axon terminals of receptor neurons and the dendritic branches of identified projection neurons that express similar physiological specificity is very low.
PMCID: PMC1690203
11.  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
12.  Peripheral Coding of Sex Pheromone Blends with Reverse Ratios in Two Helicoverpa Species 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e70078.
The relative proportions of components in a pheromone blend play a major role in sexual recognition in moths. Two sympatric species, Helicoverpa armigera and Helicoverpa assulta, use (Z)-11-hexadecenal (Z11–16: Ald) and (Z)-9-hexadecenal (Z9–16: Ald) as essential sex pheromone components but in very different ratios, 97∶3 and 7∶93 respectively. Using wind tunnel tests, single sensillum recording and in vivo calcium imaging, we comparatively studied behavioral responses and physiological activities at the level of antennal sensilla and antennal lobe (AL) in males of the two species to blends of the two pheromone components in different ratios (100∶0, 97∶3, 50∶50, 7∶93, 0∶100). Z11–16: Ald and Z9–16: Ald were recognized by two populations of olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) in different trichoid sensilla on antennae of both species. The ratios of OSNs responding to Z11–16:Ald and Z9–16:Ald OSNs were 100∶28.9 and 21.9∶100 in H. armigera and H. assulta, respectively. The Z11–16:Ald OSNs in H. armigera exhibited higher sensitivity and efficacy than those in H. assulta, while the Z9–16:Ald OSNs in H. armigera had the same sensitivity but lower efficacy than those in H. assulta. At the dosage of 10 µg, Z11–16: Ald and Z9–16: Ald evoked calcium activity in 8.5% and 3.0% of the AL surface in H. armigera, while 5.4% and 8.6% of AL in H. assulta, respectively. The calcium activities in the AL reflected the peripheral input signals of the binary pheromone mixtures and correlated with the behavioral output. These results demonstrate that the binary pheromone blends were precisely coded by the firing frequency of individual OSNs tuned to Z11–16: Ald or Z9–16: Ald, as well as their population sizes. Such information was then accurately reported to ALs of H. armigera and H. assulta, eventually producing different behaviors.
PMCID: PMC3720945  PMID: 23894593
13.  Putative Chemosensory Receptors of the Codling Moth, Cydia pomonella, Identified by Antennal Transcriptome Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31620.
The codling moth, Cydia pomonella, is an important fruit pest worldwide. As nocturnal animals, adults depend to a large extent on olfactory cues for detection of food and mates, and, for females, oviposition sites. In insects, odor detection is mediated by odorant receptors (ORs) and ionotropic receptors (IRs), which ensure the specificity of the olfactory sensory neuron responses. In this study, our aim was to identify chemosensory receptors in the codling moth as a means to uncover new targets for behavioral interference. Using next-generation sequencing techniques, we identified a total of 43 candidate ORs, one gustatory receptor and 15 IRs in the antennal transcriptome. Through Blast and sequence similarity analyses we annotated the insect obligatory co-receptor ORco, five genes clustering in a conserved clade containing sex pheromone receptors, one homolog of the Bombyx mori female-enriched receptor BmorOR30 (but no homologs of the other B. mori female-enriched receptors) and one gene clustering in the sugar receptor family. Among the candidate IRs, we identified homologs of the two highly conserved co-receptors IR8a and IR25a, and one homolog of an IR involved in phenylethyl amine detection in Drosophila. Our results open for functional characterization of the chemosensory receptors of C. pomonella, with potential for new or refined applications of semiochemicals for control of this pest insect.
PMCID: PMC3282773  PMID: 22363688
14.  A Single Sex Pheromone Receptor Determines Chemical Response Specificity of Sexual Behavior in the Silkmoth Bombyx mori 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(6):e1002115.
In insects and other animals, intraspecific communication between individuals of the opposite sex is mediated in part by chemical signals called sex pheromones. In most moth species, male moths rely heavily on species-specific sex pheromones emitted by female moths to identify and orient towards an appropriate mating partner among a large number of sympatric insect species. The silkmoth, Bombyx mori, utilizes the simplest possible pheromone system, in which a single pheromone component, (E, Z)-10,12-hexadecadienol (bombykol), is sufficient to elicit full sexual behavior. We have previously shown that the sex pheromone receptor BmOR1 mediates specific detection of bombykol in the antennae of male silkmoths. However, it is unclear whether the sex pheromone receptor is the minimally sufficient determination factor that triggers initiation of orientation behavior towards a potential mate. Using transgenic silkmoths expressing the sex pheromone receptor PxOR1 of the diamondback moth Plutella xylostella in BmOR1-expressing neurons, we show that the selectivity of the sex pheromone receptor determines the chemical response specificity of sexual behavior in the silkmoth. Bombykol receptor neurons expressing PxOR1 responded to its specific ligand, (Z)-11-hexadecenal (Z11-16:Ald), in a dose-dependent manner. Male moths expressing PxOR1 exhibited typical pheromone orientation behavior and copulation attempts in response to Z11-16:Ald and to females of P. xylostella. Transformation of the bombykol receptor neurons had no effect on their projections in the antennal lobe. These results indicate that activation of bombykol receptor neurons alone is sufficient to trigger full sexual behavior. Thus, a single gene defines behavioral selectivity in sex pheromone communication in the silkmoth. Our findings show that a single molecular determinant can not only function as a modulator of behavior but also as an all-or-nothing initiator of a complex species-specific behavioral sequence.
Author Summary
Like many animal species, moths use chemical signals called sex pheromones to communicate with conspecific individuals of the opposite sex in the context of reproduction. Typically, male moths depend on sex pheromones emitted by conspecific females to identify and locate their mates. Therefore, the behavioral preference of male moths to conspecific pheromones is a critical factor for successful reproduction. Sex pheromone receptor proteins expressed in specialized antennal olfactory receptor neurons reportedly play a central role in sex pheromone discrimination. However, the causal relationship between sex pheromone receptor specificity and behavioral preference remains to be proven. We have addressed this question in a genetically tractable moth species, the silkmoth (Bombyx mori), because this species possesses the simplest possible pheromone system in which a single pheromone substance, bombykol, elicits full sexual behavior. Using transgenic silkmoths expressing a sex pheromone receptor from another moth species, we revealed that solely the chemical specificity of the odorant receptors in bombykol receptor neurons determines the behavioral preference in male silkmoths. Our results show that the initiation of a complex programmed sexual behavior can depend on the properties of a single pheromone receptor gene expressed in a population of olfactory receptor neurons.
PMCID: PMC3128102  PMID: 21738481
15.  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
16.  Pheromone-sensitive glomeruli in the primary olfactory centre of ants 
Tremendous evolutional success and the ecological dominance of social insects, including ants, termites and social bees, are due to their efficient social organizations and their underlying communication systems. Functional division into reproductive and sterile castes, cooperation in defending the nest, rearing the young and gathering food are all regulated by communication by means of various kinds of pheromones. No brain structures specifically involved in the processing of non-sexual pheromone have been physiologically identified in any social insects. By use of intracellular recording and staining techniques, we studied responses of projection neurons of the antennal lobe (primary olfactory centre) of ants to alarm pheromone, which plays predominant roles in colony defence. Among 23 alarm pheromone-sensitive projection neurons recorded and stained in this study, eight were uniglomerular projection neurons with dendrites in one glomerulus, a structural unit of the antennal lobe, and the remaining 15 were multiglomerular projection neurons with dendrites in multiple glomeruli. Notably, all alarm pheromone-sensitive uniglomerular projection neurons had dendrites in one of five ‘alarm pheromone-sensitive (AS)’ glomeruli that form a cluster in the dorsalmost part of the antennal lobe. All alarm pheromone-sensitive multiglomerular projection neurons had dendrites in some of the AS glomeruli as well as in glomeruli in the anterodorsal area of the antennal lobe. The results suggest that components of alarm pheromone are processed in a specific cluster of glomeruli in the antennal lobe of ants.
PMCID: PMC1635514  PMID: 16901842
social insects; alarm pheromone; antennal lobe; olfactory centre; pheromone communication
17.  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
18.  Chemosensory selectivity of output neurons innervating an identified, sexually isomorphic olfactory glomerulus 
The antennal lobe (AL) of insects, like the olfactory bulb of vertebrates, is characterized by discrete modules of synaptic neuropil called glomeruli. In some insects (e.g. moths and cockroaches) a few glomeruli are sexually dimorphic and function in labeled lines for processing of sensory information about sex pheromones. Controversy still exists, however, about whether projection (output) neurons (PNs) of glomeruli in the main AL are also narrowly tuned. We examined this critical issue in the AL of the moth Manduca sexta. We used intracellular recording and staining techniques to investigate the chemosensory tuning of PNs innervating an identifiable, sexually isomorphic glomerulus, G35, in the main AL. We found that the morphological features and chemosensory tuning of G35-PNs were nearly identical in females and males. G35-PNs responded to low concentrations of the plant-derived volatile compound cis-3-hexenyl acetate (c3HA), but the sensitivity threshold of female PNs was lower than that of male PNs. The propionate and butyrate homologues of c3HA could evoke excitatory responses, but only at moderate-to-high concentrations. Other plant volatiles did not evoke responses from G35-PNs. Moreover, PNs innervating glomeruli near G35 (in females) showed little or no response to c3HA. Female G35-PNs were hyperpolarized by (±)linalool, a compound that excites PNs in an adjacent glomerulus, thus providing evidence for lateral-inhibitory interactions between glomeruli. Our results show that PNs arborizing in an identified glomerulus in the main olfactory pathway are morphologically and physiologically equivalent in both sexes and have characteristic, limited molecular receptive ranges that are highly conserved across individuals.
PMCID: PMC1351300  PMID: 16135759
olfactory; glomerulus; chemosensory; microelectrode; odor; intracellular; insect
19.  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
20.  Odors Pulsed at Wing Beat Frequencies are Tracked by Primary Olfactory Networks and Enhance Odor Detection 
Each down stroke of an insect's wings accelerates axial airflow over the antennae. Modeling studies suggest that this can greatly enhance penetration of air and air-born odorants through the antennal sensilla thereby periodically increasing odorant-receptor interactions. Do these periodic changes result in entrainment of neural responses in the antenna and antennal lobe (AL)? Does this entrainment affect olfactory acuity? To address these questions, we monitored antennal and AL responses in the moth Manduca sexta while odorants were pulsed at frequencies from 10–72 Hz, encompassing the natural wingbeat frequency. Power spectral density (PSD) analysis was used to identify entrainment of neural activity. Statistical analysis of PSDs indicates that the antennal nerve tracked pulsed odor up to 30 Hz. Furthermore, at least 50% of AL local field potentials (LFPs) and between 7–25% of unitary spiking responses also tracked pulsed odor up to 30 Hz in a frequency-locked manner. Application of bicuculline (200 μM) abolished pulse tracking in both LFP and unitary responses suggesting that GABAA receptor activation is necessary for pulse tracking within the AL. Finally, psychophysical measures of odor detection establish that detection thresholds are lowered when odor is pulsed at 20 Hz. These results suggest that AL networks can respond to the oscillatory dynamics of stimuli such as those imposed by the wing beat in a manner analogous to mammalian sniffing.
PMCID: PMC2854572  PMID: 20407584
olfaction; oscillations; synchrony; GABA; antennal lobe; olfactory bulb; sniffing; sensory sampling
21.  A receptor and binding protein interplay in the detection of a distinct pheromone component in the silkmoth Antheraea polyphemus 
Male moths respond to conspecific female-released pheromones with remarkable sensitivity and specificity, due to highly specialized chemosensory neurons in their antennae. In Antheraea silkmoths, three types of sensory neurons have been described, each responsive to one of three pheromone components. Since also three different pheromone binding proteins (PBPs) have been identified, the antenna of Antheraea seems to provide a unique model system for detailed analyzes of the interplay between the various elements underlying pheromone reception. Efforts to identify pheromone receptors of Antheraea polyphemus have led to the identification of a candidate pheromone receptor (ApolOR1). This receptor was found predominantly expressed in male antennae, specifically in neurons located beneath pheromone-sensitive sensilla trichodea. The ApolOR1-expressing cells were found to be surrounded by supporting cells co-expressing all three ApolPBPs. The response spectrum of ApolOR1 was assessed by means of calcium imaging using HEK293-cells stably expressing the receptor. It was found that at nanomolar concentrations ApolOR1-cells responded to all three pheromones when the compounds were solubilized by DMSO and also when DMSO was substituted by one of the three PBPs. However, at picomolar concentrations, cells responded only in the presence of the subtype ApolPBP2 and the pheromone (E,Z)-6,11-hexadecadienal. These results are indicative of a specific interplay of a distinct pheromone component with an appropriate binding protein and its related receptor subtype, which may be considered as basis for the remarkable sensitivity and specificity of the pheromone detection system.
PMCID: PMC2793307  PMID: 20011135
Insect; olfaction; pheromone detection; receptor; pheromone binding protein
22.  Identification and Characterization of Pheromone Receptors and Interplay between Receptors and Pheromone Binding Proteins in the Diamondback Moth, Plutella xyllostella 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e62098.
Moths depend on olfactory cues such as sex pheromones to find and recognize mating partners. Pheromone receptors (PRs) and Pheromone binding proteins (PBPs) are thought to be associated with olfactory signal transduction of pheromonal compounds in peripheral olfactory reception. Here six candidate pheromone receptor genes in the diamondback moth, Plutella xyllostella were identified and cloned. All of the six candidate PR genes display male-biased expression, which is a typical characteristic of pheromone receptors. In the Xenopus-based functional study and in situ hybridization, PxylOR4 is defined as another pheromone receptor in addition to the previously characterized PxylOR1. In the study of interaction between PRs and PBPs, PxylPBPs could increase the sensitivity of the complex expressing oocyte cells to the ligand pheromone component while decreasing the sensitivity to pheromone analogs. We deduce that activating pheromone receptors in olfactory receptor neurons requires some role of PBPs to pheromone/PBP complex. If the chemical signal is not the pheromone component, but instead, a pheromone analog with a similar structure, the complex would have a decreased ability to activate downstream pheromone receptors.
PMCID: PMC3633919  PMID: 23626773
23.  Functional Specificity of Sex Pheromone Receptors in the Cotton Bollworm Helicoverpa armigera 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e62094.
Male moths can accurately perceive the sex pheromone emitted from conspecific females by their highly accurate and specific olfactory sensory system. Pheromone receptors are of special importance in moth pheromone reception because of their central role in chemosensory signal transduction processes that occur in olfactory receptor neurons in the male antennae. There are a number of pheromone receptor genes have been cloned, however, only a few have been functionally characterized. Here we cloned six full-length pheromone receptor genes from Helicoverpa armigera male antennae. Real-time PCR showing all genes exhibited male-biased expression in adult antennae. Functional analyses of the six pheromone receptor genes were then conducted in the heterologous expression system of Xenopus oocytes. HarmOR13 was found to be a specific receptor for the major sex pheromone component Z11-16:Ald. HarmOR6 was equally tuned to both of Z9-16: Ald and Z9-14: Ald. HarmOR16 was sensitively tuned to Z11-16: OH. HarmOR11, HarmOR14 and HarmOR15 failed to respond to the tested candidate pheromone compounds. Our experiments elucidated the functions of some pheromone receptor genes of H. armigera. These advances may provide remarkable evidence for intraspecific mating choice and speciation extension in moths at molecular level.
PMCID: PMC3626661  PMID: 23614018
24.  A Review of Chemosensation and Related Behavior in Aquatic Insects 
Insects that are secondarily adapted to aquatic environments are able to sense odors from a diverse array of sources. The antenna of these insects, as in all insects, is the main chemosensory structure and its input to the brain allows for integration of sensory information that ultimately ends in behavioral responses. Only a fraction of the aquatic insect orders have been studied with respect to their sensory biology and most of the work has centered either on the description of the different types of sensilla, or on the behavior of the insect as a whole. In this paper, the literature is exhaustively reviewed and ways in which antennal morphology, brain structure, and associated behavior can advance better understanding of the neurobiology involved in processing of chemosensory information are discussed. Moreover, the importance of studying such group of insects is stated, and at the same time it is shown that many interesting questions regarding olfactory processing can be addressed by looking into the changes that aquatic insects undergo when leaving their aquatic environment.
PMCID: PMC3281456  PMID: 21864156
antennal morphology; neurophysiology; odors; olfaction; sensilla
25.  Caste-Specific Expression Patterns of Immune Response and Chemosensory Related Genes in the Leaf-Cutting Ant, Atta vollenweideri 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e81518.
Leaf-cutting ants are evolutionary derived social insects with elaborated division of labor and tremendous colony sizes with millions of workers. Their social organization is mainly based on olfactory communication using different pheromones and is promoted by a pronounced size-polymorphism of workers that perform different tasks within the colony. The size polymorphism and associated behaviors are correlated to distinct antennal lobe (AL) phenotypes. Two worker phenotypes differ in number of olfactory glomeruli in the AL and the presence or absence of an extremely large glomerulus (macroglomerulus), involved in trail-pheromone reception. The males' AL contains three macroglomeruli which are presumably involved in detection of sex-pheromone components. We investigated the antennal transcriptome data of all major castes (males, queens and workers) and two worker subcastes (large and tiny workers). In order to identify putative odorant receptor genes involved in pheromone detection, we identified differentially expressed odorant receptor genes (OR-genes) using custom microarrays. In total, we found 185 OR-gene fragments that are clearly related to ORs and we identified orthologs for 70 OR-genes. Among them one OR-gene differs in relative expression between the two worker subcastes by a factor of >3 and thus is a very promising candidate gene for the trail-pheromone receptor. Using the relative expression of OR-genes in males versus queens, we identified 2 candidates for sex-pheromone receptor genes in males. In addition, we identified genes from all other chemosensory related gene families (13 chemosensory protein genes, 8 odorant binding protein genes, 2 sensory-neuron membrane protein genes, 7 ionotropic receptor genes, 2 gustatory receptor genes), and we found ant-specific expansions in the chemosensory protein gene family. In addition, a large number of genes involved in immune defense exhibited differential expression across the three different castes, and some genes even between the two worker subcastes.
PMCID: PMC3829964  PMID: 24260580

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