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
Most animals rely on olfaction to find sexual partners, food or a habitat. The olfactory system faces the challenge of extracting meaningful information from a noisy odorous environment. In most moth species, males respond to sex pheromone emitted by females in an environment with abundant plant volatiles. Plant odours could either facilitate the localization of females (females calling on host plants), mask the female pheromone or they could be neutral without any effect on the pheromone. Here we studied how mixtures of a behaviourally-attractive floral odour, heptanal, and the sex pheromone are encoded at different levels of the olfactory pathway in males of the noctuid moth Agrotis ipsilon. In addition, we asked how interactions between the two odorants change as a function of the males' mating status. We investigated mixture detection in both the pheromone-specific and in the general odorant pathway. We used a) recordings from individual sensilla to study responses of olfactory receptor neurons, b) in vivo calcium imaging with a bath-applied dye to characterize the global input response in the primary olfactory centre, the antennal lobe and c) intracellular recordings of antennal lobe output neurons, projection neurons, in virgin and newly-mated males. Our results show that heptanal reduces pheromone sensitivity at the peripheral and central olfactory level independently of the mating status. Contrarily, heptanal-responding olfactory receptor neurons are not influenced by pheromone in a mixture, although some post-mating modulation occurs at the input of the sexually isomorphic ordinary glomeruli, where general odours are processed within the antennal lobe. The results are discussed in the context of mate localization.
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.
Calling female moths attract their mates late at night with intermittent release of a species-specific sex-pheromone blend. Mean frequency of pheromone filaments encodes distance to the calling female. In their zig-zagging upwind search male moths encounter turbulent pheromone blend filaments at highly variable concentrations and frequencies. The male moth antennae are delicately designed to detect and distinguish even traces of these sex pheromones amongst the abundance of other odors. Its olfactory receptor neurons sense even single pheromone molecules and track intermittent pheromone filaments of highly variable frequencies up to about 30 Hz over a wide concentration range. In the hawkmoth Manduca sexta brief, weak pheromone stimuli as encountered during flight are detected via a metabotropic PLCβ-dependent signal transduction cascade which leads to transient changes in intracellular Ca2+ concentrations. Strong or long pheromone stimuli, which are possibly perceived in direct contact with the female, activate receptor-guanylyl cyclases causing long-term adaptation. In addition, depending on endogenous rhythms of the moth's physiological state, hormones such as the stress hormone octopamine modulate second messenger levels in sensory neurons. High octopamine levels during the activity phase maximize temporal resolution cAMP-dependently as a prerequisite to mate location. Thus, I suggest that sliding adjustment of odor response threshold and kinetics is based upon relative concentration ratios of intracellular Ca2+ and cyclic nucleotide levels which gate different ion channels synergistically. In addition, I propose a new hypothesis for the cyclic nucleotide-dependent ion channel formed by insect olfactory receptor/coreceptor complexes. Instead of being employed for an ionotropic mechanism of odor detection it is proposed to control subthreshold membrane potential oscillation of sensory neurons, as a basis for temporal encoding of odors.
insect olfaction; second messengers; octopamine; circadian rhythms; signal transduction cascades; field potentials; subthreshold membrane potential oscillations; temporal encoding
The survival of an animal often depends on an innate response to a particular sensory stimulus. For an adult male moth, two categories of odors are innately attractive: pheromone released by conspecific females, and the floral scents of certain, often co-evolved, plants. These odors consist of multiple volatiles in characteristic mixtures. Here, we review evidence that both categories of odors are processed as sensory objects, and we suggest a mechanism in the primary olfactory center, the antennal lobe (AL), that encodes the configuration of these mixtures and may underlie recognition of innately attractive odors. In the pheromone system, mixtures of two or three volatiles elicit upwind flight. Peripheral changes are associated with behavioral changes in speciation, and suggest the existence of a pattern recognition mechanism for pheromone mixtures in the AL. Moths are similarly innately attracted to certain floral scents. Though floral scents consist of multiple volatiles that activate a broad array of receptor neurons, only a smaller subset, numerically comparable to pheromone mixtures, is necessary and sufficient to elicit behavior. Both pheromone and floral scent mixtures that produce attraction to the odor source elicit synchronous action potentials in particular populations of output (projection) neurons (PNs) in the AL. We propose a model in which the synchronous output of a population of PNs encodes the configuration of an innately attractive mixture, and thus comprises an innate mechanism for releasing odor-tracking behavior. The particular example of olfaction in moths may inform the general question of how sensory objects trigger innate responses.
floral scent; moths; neuroethology; olfaction; pheromone; sensory coding; sensory object; synchrony
In most animals, male copulation is dependent on the detection and processing of female-produced sex pheromones. In males, a refractory postejaculatory interval (PEI) follows copulation, allowing them to avoid direct remating until they have replenished their reproductive tracts. In the moth Agrotis ipsilon, newly mated males show a transient inhibition of behavioral and central nervous responses to sex pheromone. Using non-pheromonal (plant) odors, pheromones and their mixture, we now show that the observed lack of pheromone response originates from differential post-mating odor processing in the brain. Although mated males still respond to plant odors alone, their response to mixtures depends on the added pheromone concentration. Below a specific threshold, sex pheromone is not detected at the brain level; above this threshold, it becomes inhibitory. This PEI can thus be interpreted as a «refusal to respond», which contradicts the generally accepted paradigm of sleep-like/exhaustion behavior during PEI.
lepidoptera; noctuidae; moth; olfaction; mating; pheromone; plant odour; antennal lobe; plasticity
Sex pheromones are essential in moth mate communication. Information on pheromone biosynthetic genes and enzymes is needed to comprehend the mechanisms that contribute to specificity of pheromone signals. Most heliothine moths use sex pheromones with (Z)–11–hexadecenal as the major component in combination with minor fatty aldehydes and alcohols. In this study we focus on four closely related species, Heliothis virescens, Heliothis subflexa, Helicoverpa armigera and Helicoverpa assulta, which use (Z)–11–hexadecenal, (Z)–9–tetradecanal, and (Z)–9–hexadecenal in different ratios in their pheromone blend. The components are produced from saturated fatty acid precursors by desaturation, β–oxidation, reduction and oxidation.
We analyzed the composition of fatty acyl pheromone precursors and correlated it to the pheromone composition. Next, we investigated whether the downstream fatty–acyl reduction step modulates the ratio of alcohol intermediates before the final oxidation step. By isolating and functionally characterizing the Fatty Acyl Reductase (pgFAR) from each species we found that the pgFARs were active on a broad set of C8 to C16 fatty acyl substrates including the key pheromone precursors, Z9–14, Z9–16 and Z11–16:acyls. When presenting the three precursors in equal ratios to yeast cultures expressing any of the four pgFARs, all reduced (Z)–9–tetradecenoate preferentially over (Z)–11–hexadecenoate, and the latter over (Z)–9–hexadecenoate. Finally, when manipulating the precursor ratios in vitro, we found that the pgFARs display small differences in the biochemical activity on various substrates.
We conclude that a pgFAR with broad specificity is involved in heliothine moth pheromone biosynthesis, functioning as a semi–selective funnel that produces species–specific alcohol product ratios depending on the fatty–acyl precursor ratio in the pheromone gland. This study further supports the key role of these in pheromone biosynthesis and emphasizes the interplay between the pheromone fatty acyl precursors and the Lepidoptera specific pgFARs in shaping the pheromone composition.
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.
In the olfactory pathway of Drosophila, a GABAB receptor mediated presynaptic gain control mechanism at the first synapse between olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) and projection neurons has been suggested to play a critical role in setting the sensitivity and detection range of the sensory system. To approach the question if such a mechanism may be realized in the pheromone recognition system of male moths in this study attempts were made to explore if moth's pheromone-responsive cells express a GABAB- receptor. Employing a combination of genome analysis, RT-PCR experiments and screening of an antennal cDNA library we have identified a cDNA which encodes the GABAB-R1 receptor of Heliothis virescens. Moreover, based on the HvirGABAB-R1 sequence we could predict a GABAB-R1 protein from genome sequences of the silkmoth Bombyx mori. To assess whether HvirGABAB-R1 is expressed in OSNs of male antenna we performed whole-mount in situ hybridization (WM-ISH) experiments. Several HvirGABAB-R1 positive cells were visualized under long sensilla trichodea, known to contain pheromone-responsive OSNs. In parallel it was shown that cells under long trichoid hairs were labelled with pheromone receptor specific probes. In addition, the HvirGABAB-R1 specific probe also labelled several cells under shorter olfactory sensilla, but never stained cells under mechanosensory/gustatory sensilla chaetica. Together, the results indicate that a GABAB receptor is expressed in pheromone-responsive OSNs of H. virescens and suggest a presynaptic gain control mechanism in the axon terminals of these cells.
moth; olfaction; GABA; pheromone; in situ hybridization.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The olfactory pathway in the insect brain is anatomically well described from the antennal lobe (AL) to the mushroom bodies and the lateral protocerebrum (LP) in several species. Less is known about the further connections of the olfactory network in protocerebrum and how information about relevant plant odorants and mixtures are represented in this network, resulting in output information mediated by descending neurons. In the present study we have recorded intracellularly followed by dye injections from neurons in the LP and superior protocerebrum (SP) of the moth, Heliothis virescens. As relevant stimuli, we have used selected primary plant odorants and mixtures of them. The results provide the morphology and physiological responses of neurons involved in a putative circuit connecting the mushroom body lobes, the SP, and the LP, as well as input to SP and LP by one multiglomerular AL neuron and output from the LP by one descending neuron. All neurons responded to a particular mixture of ten primary plant odorants, some of them also to single odorants of the mixture. Altogether, the physiological data indicate integration in protocerebral neurons of information from several of the receptor neuron types functionally described in this species.
insect olfaction; protocerebral neurons; antenno-protocerebral tracts; lateral protocerebrum; superior protocerebrum; descending neuron and odor mixture
The chemical components of sex pheromones have been determined for more than a thousand moth species, but so far only a handful of genes encoding enzymes responsible for the biosynthesis of these compounds have been identified. For understanding the evolution of moth sexual communication, it is essential to know which genes are involved in the production of specific pheromone components and what controls the variation in their relative frequencies in the pheromone blend. We used a transcriptomic approach to characterize the pheromone gland of the Noctuid moth Heliothis virescens, an important agricultural pest, in order to obtain substantial general sequence information and to identify a range of candidate genes involved in the pheromone biosynthetic pathway.
To facilitate identifying sets of genes involved in a broad range of processes and to capture rare transcripts, we developed our majority of ESTs from a normalized cDNA library of Heliothis virescens pheromone glands (PG). Combining these with a non-normalized library yielded a total of 17,233 ESTs, which assembled into 2,082 contigs and 6,228 singletons. Using BLAST searches of the NR and Swissprot databases we were able to identify a large number of putative unique gene elements (unigenes), which we compared to those derived from previous transcriptomic surveys of the larval stage of Heliothis virescens. The distribution of unigenes among GO Biological Process functional groups shows an overall similarity between PG and larval transcriptomes, but with distinct enrichment of specific pathways in the PG. In addition, we identified a large number of candidate genes in the pheromone biosynthetic pathways.
These data constitute one of the first large-scale EST-projects for Noctuidae, a much-needed resource for exploring these pest species. Our analysis shows a surprisingly complex transcriptome and we identified a large number of potential pheromone biosynthetic pathway and immune-related genes that can be applied to population and systematic studies of Heliothis virescens and other Noctuidae.
In many moths, mate-finding communication is mediated by the female sex pheromones. Since differentiation of sex pheromones is often associated with speciation, it is intriguing to know how the changes in female sex pheromone have been tracked by the pheromone recognition system of the males. A male-specific odorant receptor was found to have been conserved through the evolution of sex pheromone communication systems in the genus Ostrinia (Lepidoptera: Crambidae). In an effort to characterize pheromone receptors of O. scapulalis, which uses a mixture of (E)-11- and (Z)-11-tetradecenyl acetates as a sex pheromone, we cloned a gene (OscaOR1) encoding a male-specific odorant receptor. In addition, we cloned a gene of the Or83b family (OscaOR2). Functional assays using Xenopus oocytes co-expressing OscaOR1 and OscaOR2 have shown that OscaOR1 is, unexpectedly, a receptor of (E)-11-tetradecenol (E11-14:OH), a single pheromone component of a congener O. latipennis. Subsequent studies on O. latipennis showed that this species indeed has a gene orthologous to OscaOR1 (OlatOR1), a functional assay of which confirmed it to be a gene encoding the receptor of E11-14:OH. Furthermore, investigations of six other Ostrinia species have revealed that all of them have a gene orthologous to OscaOR1, although none of these species, except O. ovalipennis, a species most closely related to O. latipennis, uses E11-14:OH as the pheromone component. The present findings suggest that the male-specific receptor of E11-14:OH was acquired before the divergence of the genus Ostrinia, and functionally retained through the evolution of this genus.
odorant receptor; pheromone receptor; Ostrinia; (E)-11-tetradecenol; functional assay
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.
As odor information plays a vital role in the life of moths, their olfactory sense has evolved into a highly specific and sensitive apparatus relevant to reproduction and survival. The key players in the detection of odorants are olfactory receptor (OR) proteins. Here we identify four OR-encoding genes differentially expressed in the antennae of males and females of the sphingid moth Manduca sexta. Two male-specific receptors (the previously reported MsexOR-1 and the newly identified MsexOR-4) show great resemblance to other male moth pheromone ORs. The putative pheromone receptors are co-expressed with the co-receptor involved in general odorant signal transduction, the DmelOr83b homolog MsexOR-2. One female-specific receptor (MsexOR-5) displays similarities to BmorOR-19, a receptor in Bombyx mori tuned to the detection of the plant odor linalool.
olfaction; Manduca sexta; Lepidoptera; odorant receptor; pheromone receptor
Cotesia vestalis is an endoparasitic wasp that attacks larvae of the diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella), a herbivore of cruciferous plants. Females of C. vestalis use herbivore-induced plant odorants released from plants infested by P. xylostella as a host-searching cue. Transcriptome pyrosequencing was used to identify genes in the antennae of C. vestalis adult females coding for odorant receptors (ORs) and odorant binding proteins (OBPs) involved in insect olfactory perception. Quantitative gene expression analyses showed that a few OR and OBP genes were expressed exclusively in the antenna of C. vestalis adult females whereas most other classes of genes were expressed in the antennae of both males and females, indicating their diversity in importance for the olfactory sensory system. Together, transcriptome profiling of C. vestalis genes involved in the antennal odorant-sensory system helps in detecting genes involved in host- and food-search behaviors through infochemically-mediated interactions.
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.
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.
Insects pinpoint mates, food and oviposition sites by olfactory cues. Recognizing and localizing a suitable target by olfaction is demanding. Odor sources emit characteristic blends of compounds that have to be identified against an environmentally derived olfactory background. This background, however, does not necessarily disturb the localization of a source. Rather, the contrary. Sex pheromones become more attractive to male moths when being presented against a relevant plant background. Here we asked whether such olfactory coaction also characterizes foraging cues. The tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta feeds on nectar from wild tobacco Nicotiana attenuata and sacred datura Datura wrightii flowers. We tested how leaf-derived volatile blends as a background affect the moths' approach to flower blends. We found coaction when a flower blend was presented against a conspecific leaf volatile background but not when the blend was presented against volatiles emitted by the other host plant or by a non-host plant. Hence, our results reveal a species-specific coaction between flower blend and leaf volatile background. The ability to integrate information from different odor sources on one plant might provide the moth with a fine-grained analysis of food site quality.
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.
Tuning of the olfactory system of male moths to conspecific female sex pheromones is crucial for correct species recognition; however, little is known about the genetic changes that drive speciation in this system. Moths of the genus Ostrinia are good models to elucidate this question, since significant differences in pheromone blends are observed within and among species. Odorant receptors (ORs) play a critical role in recognition of female sex pheromones; eight types of OR genes expressed in male antennae were previously reported in Ostrinia moths.
We screened an O. nubilalis bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) library by PCR, and constructed three contigs from isolated clones containing the reported OR genes. Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) analysis using these clones as probes demonstrated that the largest contig, which contained eight OR genes, was located on the Z chromosome; two others harboring two and one OR genes were found on two autosomes. Sequence determination of BAC clones revealed the Z-linked OR genes were closely related and tandemly arrayed; moreover, four of them shared 181-bp direct repeats spanning exon 7 and intron 7.
This is the first report of tandemly arrayed sex pheromone receptor genes in Lepidoptera. The localization of an OR gene cluster on the Z chromosome agrees with previous findings for a Z-linked locus responsible for O. nubilalis male behavioral response to sex pheromone. The 181-bp direct repeats might enhance gene duplications by unequal crossovers. An autosomal locus responsible for male response to sex pheromone in Heliothis virescens and H. subflexa was recently reported to contain at least four OR genes. Taken together, these findings support the hypothesis that generation of additional copies of OR genes can increase the potential for male moths to acquire altered specificity for pheromone components, and accordingly, facilitate differentiation of sex pheromones.
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.
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.