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
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.
Remarkably little is known about the molecular and cellular basis of mate recognition in Drosophila . We systematically examine one of the three major types of sensilla that house olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) on the Drosophila antenna, the trichoid sensilla, by electrophysiological analysis. We find that none respond strongly to food odors, but all respond to fly odors. Two subtypes of trichoid sensilla contain ORNs that respond to cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), an anti-aphrodisiac pheromone present in males and transferred to females during mating [2–4]. All trichoid sensilla yield responses to a male extract; a subset yield responses to a virgin female extract as well. Thus males can be distinguished from virgin females by the activity they elicit among the trichoid ORN population. We then systematically test all members of the Odor receptor (Or) gene family [5–7] that are expressed in trichoid sensilla , using an in vivo expression system . Four receptors respond to fly odors in this system: two respond to extracts of both males and virgin females, and two respond to cVA. We propose a model for how these receptors might be used by a male to distinguish suitable from unsuitable mating partners through a simple logic.
Recognition of conspecifics and mates is based on a variety of sensory cues that are specific to the species, sex and social status of each individual. The courtship and mating activity of Drosophila melanogaster flies is thought to depend on the olfactory perception of a male-specific volatile pheromone, cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), and the gustatory perception of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs), some of which are sexually dimorphic. Using two complementary sampling methods (headspace Solid Phase Micro-Extraction [SPME] and solvent extraction) coupled with GC-MS analysis, we measured the dispersion of pheromonal CHs in the air and on the substrate around the fly. We also followed the variations in CHs that were induced by social and sexual interactions. We found that all CHs present on the fly body were deposited as a thin layer on the substrate, whereas only a few of these molecules were also detected in the air. Moreover, social experience during early adult development and in mature flies strongly affected male volatile CHs but not cVA, whereas sexual interaction only had a moderate influence on dispersed CHs. Our study suggests that, in addition to their role as contact cues, CHs can influence fly behavior at a distance and that volatile, deposited and body pheromonal CHs participate in a three-step recognition of the chemical identity and social status of insects.
Insects respond to the spatial and temporal dynamics of a pheromone plume, which implies not only a strong response to 'odor on', but also to 'odor off'. This requires mechanisms geared toward a fast signal termination. Several mechanisms may contribute to signal termination, among which odorant-degrading enzymes. These enzymes putatively play a role in signal dynamics by a rapid inactivation of odorants in the vicinity of the sensory receptors, although direct in vivo experimental evidences are lacking. Here we verified the role of an extracellular carboxylesterase, esterase-6 (Est-6), in the sensory physiological and behavioral dynamics of Drosophila melanogaster response to its pheromone, cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA). Est-6 was previously linked to post-mating effects in the reproductive system of females. As Est-6 is also known to hydrolyze cVA in vitro and is expressed in the main olfactory organ, the antenna, we tested here its role in olfaction as a putative odorant-degrading enzyme.
We first confirm that Est-6 is highly expressed in olfactory sensilla, including cVA-sensitive sensilla, and we show that expression is likely associated with non-neuronal cells. Our electrophysiological approaches show that the dynamics of olfactory receptor neuron (ORN) responses is strongly influenced by Est-6, as in Est-6° null mutants (lacking the Est-6 gene) cVA-sensitive ORN showed increased firing rate and prolonged activity in response to cVA. Est-6° mutant males had a lower threshold of behavioral response to cVA, as revealed by the analysis of two cVA-induced behaviors. In particular, mutant males exhibited a strong decrease of male-male courtship, in association with a delay in courtship initiation.
Our study presents evidence that Est-6 plays a role in the physiological and behavioral dynamics of sex pheromone response in Drosophila males and supports a role of Est-6 as an odorant-degrading enzyme (ODE) in male antennae. Our results also expand the role of Est-6 in Drosophila biology, from reproduction to olfaction, and highlight the role of ODEs in insect olfaction.
carboxylesterase; esterase 6; olfaction; pheromone; signal termination
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.
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
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.
The Drosophila sex pheromone cVA elicits different behaviors in males and females. First- and second-order olfactory neurons show identical pheromone responses, suggesting that sex genes differentially wire circuits deeper in the brain. Using in vivo whole-cell electrophysiology, we now show that two clusters of third-order olfactory neurons have dimorphic pheromone responses. One cluster responds in females; the other responds in males. These clusters are present in both sexes and share a common input pathway, but sex-specific wiring reroutes pheromone information. Regulating dendritic position, the fruitless transcription factor both connects the male-responsive cluster and disconnects the female-responsive cluster from pheromone input. Selective masculinization of third-order neurons transforms their morphology and pheromone responses, demonstrating that circuits can be functionally rewired by the cell-autonomous action of a switch gene. This bidirectional switch, analogous to an electrical changeover switch, provides a simple circuit logic to activate different behaviors in males and females.
•Two clusters of higher olfactory neurons show sex-specific responses to pheromone•Common sensory input is wired to a different cluster in each sex, rerouting information•Bidirectional circuit switch depends on dendritic location of third-order neurons•Circuit state determined by cell-autonomous action of a switch gene, fruitless
A circuitry change consisting of dendritic repositioning of third-order sensory neurons enables one pheromone to elicit differential responses in male and female flies. This bidirectional switch, analogous to an electrical changeover switch, provides a simple circuit logic to activate different behaviors in males and females.
Once captured by the antenna, 11-cis vaccenyl acetate (cVA) binds to an extracellular binding protein called LUSH that undergoes a conformational shift upon cVA binding. The stable LUSH–cVA complex is the activating ligand for pheromone receptors present on the dendrites of the aT1 neurones, comprising the only neurones that detect cVA pheromone. This mechanism explains the single molecule sensitivity of insect pheromone detection systems. The receptor that recognizes activated LUSH consists of a complex of several proteins, including Or67d, a member of the tuning odourant receptor family, Orco, a co-receptor ion channel, and SNMP, a CD36 homologue that may be an inhibitory subunit. In addition, genetic screens and reconstitution experiments reveal additional factors that are important for pheromone detection. Identification and functional dissection of these factors in Drosophila melanogaster Meigen should permit the identification of homologous factors in pathogenic insects and agricultural pests, which, in turn, may be viable candidates for novel classes of compounds to control populations of target insect species without impacting beneficial species.
Early sensory processing can play a critical role in sensing environmental cues. We have investigated the physiological and behavioral function of gain control at the first synapse of olfactory processing in Drosophila. We report that olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) express the GABAB receptor (GABABR) and its expression expands the dynamic range of ORN synaptic transmission that is preserved in projection neuron responses. Strikingly, we find that different ORN channels have unique baseline levels of GABABR expression. ORNs that sense the aversive odorant CO2 do not express GABABRs nor exhibit any presynaptic inhibition. In contrast, pheromone-sensing ORNs express a high level of GABABRs and exhibit strong presynaptic inhibition. Furthermore, a behavioral significance of presynaptic inhibition was revealed by a courtship behavior in which pheromone-dependent mate localization is impaired in flies that lack GABABRs in specific ORNs. Together, these findings indicate that different olfactory receptor channels may employ heterogeneous presynaptic gain control as a mechanism to allow an animal’s innate behavioral responses to match its ecological needs.
Drosophila; olfaction; GABAB; presynaptic inhibition; gain control; dynamic range; two-photon imaging
In either the vertebrate nose or the insect antenna, most olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) respond to multiple odors. However, some ORNs respond to just a single odor, or at most to a few highly related odors. It has been hypothesized that narrowly-tuned ORNs project to narrowly-tuned neurons in the brain, and that these dedicated circuits mediate innate behavioral responses to a particular ligand. Here we have investigated neural activity and behavior downstream from two narrowly-tuned ORN types in Drosophila. We found that genetically ablating either of these ORN types impairs innate behavioral attraction to their cognate ligand. Neurons in the antennal lobe postsynaptic to one of these ORN types are, like their presynaptic ORNs, narrowly tuned to a pheromone. However, neurons postsynaptic to the second ORN type are broadly tuned. These results demonstrate that some narrowly-tuned ORNs project to dedicated central circuits, ensuring a tight connection between stimulus and behavior, whereas others project to central neurons which participate in the ensemble representations of many odors.
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.
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
Detection of specific female pheromones stimulates courtship behavior in Drosophila melanogaster males, but the chemosensory molecules, cells and mechanisms involved remain poorly understood. Here we show that ppk25, a DEG/ENaC ion channel subunit required for normal male response to females, is expressed at highest levels in a single sexually dimorphic gustatory neuron of most taste hairs on legs and wings, but not in neurons that detect courtship-inhibiting pheromones or food. Synaptic inactivation of ppk25-expressing neurons, or knockdown of ppk25 expression in all gustatory neurons significantly impairs male response to females, whereas gustatory expression of ppk25 rescues the courtship behavior of ppk25 mutant males. Remarkably, the only other detectable albeit significantly weaker expression of ppk25 occurs in olfactory neurons implicated in modulation of courtship behavior. However, expression of ppk25 in olfactory neurons is not required for male courtship under our experimental conditions. These data show that ppk25 functions specifically in peripheral taste neurons involved in activation of courtship behavior, an unexpected function for this type of channel. Furthermore, our work identifies a small subset of gustatory neurons with an essential role in activation of male courtship behavior, most likely in response to female pheromones.
Pheromonal communication is crucial with regard to mate choice in many animals including insects. Drosophila melanogaster flies produce a pheromonal bouquet with many cuticular hydrocarbons some of which diverge between the sexes and differently affect male courtship behavior. Cuticular pheromones have a relatively high weight and are thought to be — mostly but not only — detected by gustatory contact. However, the response of the peripheral and central gustatory systems to these substances remains poorly explored. We measured the effect induced by pheromonal cuticular mixtures on (i) the electrophysiological response of peripheral gustatory receptor neurons, (ii) the calcium variation in brain centers receiving these gustatory inputs and (iii) the behavioral reaction induced in control males and in mutant desat1 males, which show abnormal pheromone production and perception. While male and female pheromones induced inhibitory-like effects on taste receptor neurons, the contact of male pheromones on male fore-tarsi elicits a long-lasting response of higher intensity in the dedicated gustatory brain center. We found that the behavior of control males was more strongly inhibited by male pheromones than by female pheromones, but this difference disappeared in anosmic males. Mutant desat1 males showed an increased sensitivity of their peripheral gustatory neurons to contact pheromones and a behavioral incapacity to discriminate sex pheromones. Together our data indicate that cuticular hydrocarbons induce long-lasting inhibitory effects on the relevant taste pathway which may interact with the olfactory pathway to modulate pheromonal perception.
What makes males and females behave differently? While genetic master-regulators commonly underlie physical differences, sexually dimorphic behavior is additionally influenced by sensory input such as olfactory cues. Olfaction requires both ligands for signaling and sensory neural circuits for detection. Specialized subsets of each interact to generate gender-dimorphic behavior. It has long been accepted that males and females emit sex-specific odor compounds that function as pheromones to promote stereotypic behavior. Significant advances have now been made in purifying and isolating several of these sex-specific olfactory ligands. In contrast, the neural mechanisms that enable a gender dimorphic response to these odors remain largely unknown. However, first progress has been made in identifying components of sexually dimorphic olfactory circuits in both Drosophila and the mouse.
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.
Heliothis virescens; Lepidoptera; courtship; behavioral antagonist; cobalt-lysine staining; antennal lobe; olfactory receptor neuron
As in many species, gustatory pheromones regulate the mating behavior of Drosophila. Recently, several ppk genes, encoding ion channel subunits of the DEG/ENaC family, have been implicated in this process, leading to the identification of gustatory neurons that detect specific pheromones. In a subset of taste hairs on the legs of Drosophila, there are two ppk23-expressing, pheromone-sensing neurons with complementary response profiles; one neuron detects female pheromones that stimulate male courtship, the other detects male pheromones that inhibit male-male courtship. In contrast to ppk23, ppk25, is only expressed in a single gustatory neuron per taste hair, and males with impaired ppk25 function court females at reduced rates but do not display abnormal courtship of other males. These findings raised the possibility that ppk25 expression defines a subset of pheromone-sensing neurons. Here we show that ppk25 is expressed and functions in neurons that detect female-specific pheromones and mediates their stimulatory effect on male courtship. Furthermore, the role of ppk25 and ppk25-expressing neurons is not restricted to responses to female-specific pheromones. ppk25 is also required in the same subset of neurons for stimulation of male courtship by young males, males of the Tai2 strain, and by synthetic 7-pentacosene (7-P), a hydrocarbon normally found at low levels in both males and females. Finally, we unexpectedly find that, in females, ppk25 and ppk25-expressing cells regulate receptivity to mating. In the absence of the third antennal segment, which has both olfactory and auditory functions, mutations in ppk25 or silencing of ppk25-expressing neurons block female receptivity to males. Together these results indicate that ppk25 identifies a functionally specialized subset of pheromone-sensing neurons. While ppk25 neurons are required for the responses to multiple pheromones, in both males and females these neurons are specifically involved in stimulating courtship and mating.
Drosophila mating behaviors serve as an attractive model to understand how external sensory cues are detected and used to generate appropriate behavioral responses. Pheromones present on the cuticle of Drosophila have important roles in stimulating male courtship toward females and inhibiting male courtship directed at other males. Recently, stimulatory pheromones emitted by females and inhibitory pheromones emitted by males have been shown to stimulate distinct subsets of gustatory neurons on the legs. We have previously shown that a DEG/ENaC ion channel subunit, ppk25, is involved in male courtship toward females but not in inhibition of male-male courtship. Here we show that ppk25 is specifically expressed and functions in a subset of gustatory neurons that mediate physiological and behavioral responses to female-specific stimulatory pheromones. Furthermore, ppk25 is also required for the function of those neurons to activate male courtship in response to other pheromones that are not female-specific. In addition to their roles in males, we find that ppk25, and the related DEG/ENaC subunits ppk23 and ppk29, also stimulate female mating behavior. In conclusion, these results show that, in both sexes, ppk25 functions in a group of neurons with a specialized role in stimulating mating behaviors.
Male-specific products of the fruitless (fru) gene control the development and function of neuronal circuits that underlie male-specific behaviors in Drosophila, including courtship. Alternative splicing generates at least three distinct Fru isoforms, each containing a different zinc-finger domain. Here, we examine the expression and function of each of these isoforms.
We show that most fru+ cells express all three isoforms, yet each isoform has a distinct function in the elaboration of sexually dimorphic circuitry and behavior. The strongest impairment in courtship behavior is observed in fruC mutants, which fail to copulate, lack sine song, and do not generate courtship song in the absence of visual stimuli. Cellular dimorphisms in the fru circuit are dependent on FruC rather than other single Fru isoforms. Removal of FruC from the neuronal classes vAB3 or aSP4 leads to cell-autonomous feminization of arborizations and loss of courtship in the dark.
These data map specific aspects of courtship behavior to the level of single fru isoforms and fru+ cell types—an important step toward elucidating the chain of causality from gene to circuit to behavior.
•fru A, B, and C isoforms have largely overlapping expression in the male fly CNS•All three fru isoforms contribute to male courtship, with fruC being the most critical•FruC specifies sexual dimorphisms in neuron number and arborizations•FruC is required in defined neuronal classes for male-specific anatomy and behavior
Drosophila express three male-specific isoforms (A, B, and C) of the putative transcription factor fruitless (fru) in an overlapping pattern. von Philipsborn et al. show that isoform-mutant flies exhibit defects in male courtship, copulation success, and song production. FruC specifies sexual dimorphisms in defined neuronal classes potentially crucial for pheromone processing.
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.
Drosophila melanogaster has an olfactory organ called the maxillary palp. It is smaller and numerically simpler than the antenna, and its specific role in behavior has long been unclear. Because of its proximity to the mouthparts, I explored the possibility of a role in taste behavior. Maxillary palp was tuned to mediate odor-induced taste enhancement: a sucrose solution was more appealing when simultaneously presented with the odorant 4-methylphenol. The same result was observed with other odors that stimulate other types of olfactory receptor neuron in the maxillary palp. When an antennal olfactory receptor was genetically introduced in the maxillary palp, the fly interpreted a new odor as a sweet-enhancing smell. These results all point to taste enhancement as a function of the maxillary palp. It also opens the door for studying integration of multiple senses in a model organism.
Many pheromones have very low water solubility, posing experimental difficulties for quantitative binding measurements. A new method is presented for determining thermodynamically valid dissociation constants for ligands binding to pheromone-binding proteins (OBPs), using β-cyclodextrin as a solubilizer and transfer agent. The method is applied to LUSH, a Drosophila OBP that binds the pheromone 11-cis vaccenyl acetate (cVA). Refolding of LUSH expressed in E. coli was assessed by measuring N-phenyl-1-naphthylamine (NPN) binding and Förster resonance energy transfer between LUSH tryptophan 123 (W123) and NPN. Binding of cVA was measured from quenching of W123 fluorescence as a function of cVA concentration. The equilibrium constant for transfer of cVA between β-cyclodextrin and LUSH was determined from a linked equilibria model. This constant, multiplied by the β-cyclodextrin-cVA dissociation constant, gives the LUSH-cVA dissociation constant: ~100 nM. It was also found that other ligands quench W123 fluorescence. The LUSH-ligand dissociation constants were determined to be ~200 nM for the silk moth pheromone bombykol and ~90 nM for methyl oleate. The results indicate that the ligand-binding cavity of LUSH can accommodate a variety ligands with strong binding interactions. Implications of this for the pheromone receptor model proposed by Laughlin et al. (Cell
133: 1255–65, 2008) are discussed.
olfaction; 11-cis vaccenyl acetate; LUSH; pheromone-binding proteins; cyclodextrin; tryptophan fluorescence
Nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT) is a calcium-responsive transcription factor. We describe here an NFAT-based neural tracing method—CaLexA (calcium-dependent nuclear import of Lex A)—for labeling active neurons in behaving animals. In this system, sustained neural activity induces nuclear import of the chimeric transcription factor LexA-VP16-NFAT, which in turn drives green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter expression only in active neurons. We tested this system in Drosophila and found that volatile sex pheromones excite specific neurons in the olfactory circuit. Furthermore, complex courtship behavior associated with multi-modal sensory inputs activated neurons in the ventral nerve cord. This method harnessing the mechanism of activity-dependent nuclear import of a transcription factor can be used to identify active neurons in specific neuronal population in behaving animals.
Drosophila; olfaction; antennal lobe; pheromone; NFAT; activity dependent; N2A; immediate-early gene
Anatomical and physiological experiments in the lamprey reveal the neural circuit involved in transforming olfactory inputs into motor outputs, which was previously unknown in a vertebrate.
It is widely recognized that animals respond to odors by generating or modulating specific motor behaviors. These reactions are important for daily activities, reproduction, and survival. In the sea lamprey, mating occurs after ovulated females are attracted to spawning sites by male sex pheromones. The ubiquity and reliability of olfactory-motor behavioral responses in vertebrates suggest tight coupling between the olfactory system and brain areas controlling movements. However, the circuitry and the underlying cellular neural mechanisms remain largely unknown. Using lamprey brain preparations, and electrophysiology, calcium imaging, and tract tracing experiments, we describe the neural substrate responsible for transforming an olfactory input into a locomotor output. We found that olfactory stimulation with naturally occurring odors and pheromones induced large excitatory responses in reticulospinal cells, the command neurons for locomotion. We have also identified the anatomy and physiology of this circuit. The olfactory input was relayed in the medial part of the olfactory bulb, in the posterior tuberculum, in the mesencephalic locomotor region, to finally reach reticulospinal cells in the hindbrain. Activation of this olfactory-motor pathway generated rhythmic ventral root discharges and swimming movements. Our study bridges the gap between behavior and cellular neural mechanisms in vertebrates, identifying a specific subsystem within the CNS, dedicated to producing motor responses to olfactory inputs.
Animal behaviors, including locomotion, can be driven by olfactory cues, such as pheromones or food sources. The neural substrate (neuroanatomical connections and physiological signals) that permits the transformation of olfactory inputs into locomotor responses is still unknown in vertebrates. In the present study, we identify such a neural substrate in the lamprey. Here, olfactory signals from the outside world are transmitted to the reticulospinal neurons in the lower brainstem, which provide the descending locomotor command to the spinal cord. We found that this circuit originates in the medial portion of the olfactory bulb and that connections are made in the posterior tuberculum, a ventral diencephalic structure. These inputs are then conveyed to the mesencephalic locomotor region, known to project extensively to brainstem reticulospinal neurons and thereby activate locomotion. Our results illuminate a specific dedicated neural substrate in the brain of lampreys that underlies olfactory-motor responses, which is activated by both food-related or pheromonal olfactory cues. It will be of interest to determine whether such a pathway is preserved in all vertebrates.