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1.  Morphology and Histochemistry of the Aesthetasc-Associated Epidermal Glands in Terrestrial Hermit Crabs of the Genus Coenobita (Decapoda: Paguroidea) 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e96430.
Crustaceans have successfully adapted to a variety of environments including fresh- and saltwater as well as land. Transition from an aquatic to a terrestrial lifestyle required adaptations of the sensory equipment of an animal, particularly in olfaction, where the stimulus itself changes from hydrophilic to mainly hydrophobic, air-borne molecules. Hermit crabs Coenobita spp. (Anomura, Coenobitidae) have adapted to a fully terrestrial lifestyle as adults and have been shown to rely on olfaction in order to detect distant food items. We observed that the specialized olfactory sensilla in Coenobita, named aesthetascs, are immersed in a layer of mucous-like substance. We hypothesized that the mucous is produced by antennal glands and affects functioning of the aesthetascs.
Using various microscopic and histochemical techniques we proved that the mucous is produced by aesthetasc-associated epidermal glands, which we consider to be modified rosette-type aesthetasc tegumental glands known from aquatic decapods. These epidermal glands in Coenobita are multicellular exocrine organs of the recto-canal type with tubulo-acinar arrangement of the secretory cells. Two distinct populations of secretory cells were clearly distinguishable with light and electron microscopy. At least part of the secretory cells contains specific enzymes, CUB-serine proteases, which are likely to be secreted on the surface of the aesthetasc pad and take part in antimicrobial defense. Proteomic analysis of the glandular tissue corroborates the idea that the secretions of the aesthetasc-associated epidermal glands are involved in immune responses.
We propose that the mucous covering the aesthetascs in Coenobita takes part in antimicrobial defense and at the same time provides the moisture essential for odor perception in terrestrial hermit crabs. We conclude that the morphological modifications of the aesthetasc-associated epidermal glands as well as the functional characteristics of their secretions are important adaptations to a terrestrial lifestyle.
PMCID: PMC4013018  PMID: 24805352
2.  Evolution of insect olfactory receptors 
eLife  2014;3:e02115.
The olfactory sense detects a plethora of behaviorally relevant odor molecules; gene families involved in olfaction exhibit high diversity in different animal phyla. Insects detect volatile molecules using olfactory (OR) or ionotropic receptors (IR) and in some cases gustatory receptors (GRs). While IRs are expressed in olfactory organs across Protostomia, ORs have been hypothesized to be an adaptation to a terrestrial insect lifestyle. We investigated the olfactory system of the primary wingless bristletail Lepismachilis y-signata (Archaeognatha), the firebrat Thermobia domestica (Zygentoma) and the neopteran leaf insect Phyllium siccifolium (Phasmatodea). ORs and the olfactory coreceptor (Orco) are with very high probability lacking in Lepismachilis; in Thermobia we have identified three Orco candidates, and in Phyllium a fully developed OR/Orco-based system. We suggest that ORs did not arise as an adaptation to a terrestrial lifestyle, but evolved later in insect evolution, with Orco being present before the appearance of ORs.
eLife digest
Detecting chemical cues can be a matter of life or death for insects, and many employ three families of receptor proteins to detect a broad range of odors. Members of one of these receptor families, the olfactory receptors, form a complex with another protein, the olfactory coreceptor that is essential for both positioning and stabilizing the receptor, as well as the actual function.
Crustaceans share a common ancestor with insects, and since they do not have olfactory receptors it has been proposed that these receptors evolved when prehistoric insects moved from the sea to live on land. According to this idea, olfactory receptors evolved because these ancestors needed to be able to detect odor molecules floating in the air rather than dissolved in water.
Previous research on insect olfactory receptors has focused on insects with wings. Missbach et al. have now used a wide range of techniques to investigate how evolutionarily older wingless insect groups detect scents. As all investigated groups evolved from a common ancestor at different times these experiments allow tracking of the historical development of olfactory receptors.
In the wingless species that is more closely related to the flying insects there was evidence of the presence of multiple coreceptors but not the olfactory receptors themselves. In the most basal insects no evidence for any part of the olfactory receptor-based system was found. This indicates that the main olfactory receptors evolved independently of the coreceptor long after the migration of insects from water to land. Missbach et al. suggest that olfactory receptors instead developed far later, around the time when vascular plants spread and insects developed the ability to fly.
PMCID: PMC3966513  PMID: 24670956
insect olfactory receptors; Orco; evolution; Lepismachilis y-signata; Thermobia domestica; Phyllium siccifolium; other
3.  The banana code—natural blend processing in the olfactory circuitry of Drosophila melanogaster 
Odor information is predominantly perceived as complex odor blends. For Drosophila melanogaster one of the most attractive blends is emitted by an over-ripe banana. To analyze how the fly's olfactory system processes natural blends we combined the experimental advantages of gas chromatography and functional imaging (GC-I). In this way, natural banana compounds were presented successively to the fly antenna in close to natural occurring concentrations. This technique allowed us to identify the active odor components, use these compounds as stimuli and measure odor-induced Ca2+ signals in input and output neurons of the Drosophila antennal lobe (AL), the first olfactory neuropil. We demonstrate that mixture interactions of a natural blend are very rare and occur only at the AL output level resulting in a surprisingly linear blend representation. However, the information regarding single components is strongly modulated by the olfactory circuitry within the AL leading to a higher similarity between the representation of individual components and the banana blend. This observed modulation might tune the olfactory system in a way to distinctively categorize odor components and improve the detection of suitable food sources. Functional GC-I thus enables analysis of virtually any unknown natural odorant blend and its components in their relative occurring concentrations and allows characterization of neuronal responses of complete neural assemblies. This technique can be seen as a valuable complementary method to classical GC/electrophysiology techniques, and will be a highly useful tool in future investigations of insect-insect and insect-plant chemical interactions.
PMCID: PMC3929855  PMID: 24600405
Drosophila; gas chromatography; in vivo calcium imaging; olfaction; blend coding; insect antennal lobe
4.  Temporal Features of Spike Trains in the Moth Antennal Lobe Revealed by a Comparative Time-Frequency Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e84037.
The discrimination of complex sensory stimuli in a noisy environment is an immense computational task. Sensory systems often encode stimulus features in a spatiotemporal fashion through the complex firing patterns of individual neurons. To identify these temporal features, we have developed an analysis that allows the comparison of statistically significant features of spike trains localized over multiple scales of time-frequency resolution. Our approach provides an original way to utilize the discrete wavelet transform to process instantaneous rate functions derived from spike trains, and select relevant wavelet coefficients through statistical analysis. Our method uncovered localized features within olfactory projection neuron (PN) responses in the moth antennal lobe coding for the presence of an odor mixture and the concentration of single component odorants, but not for compound identities. We found that odor mixtures evoked earlier responses in biphasic response type PNs compared to single components, which led to differences in the instantaneous firing rate functions with their signal power spread across multiple frequency bands (ranging from 0 to 45.71 Hz) during a time window immediately preceding behavioral response latencies observed in insects. Odor concentrations were coded in excited response type PNs both in low frequency band differences (2.86 to 5.71 Hz) during the stimulus and in the odor trace after stimulus offset in low (0 to 2.86 Hz) and high (22.86 to 45.71 Hz) frequency bands. These high frequency differences in both types of PNs could have particular relevance for recruiting cellular activity in higher brain centers such as mushroom body Kenyon cells. In contrast, neurons in the specialized pheromone-responsive area of the moth antennal lobe exhibited few stimulus-dependent differences in temporal response features. These results provide interesting insights on early insect olfactory processing and introduce a novel comparative approach for spike train analysis applicable to a variety of neuronal data sets.
PMCID: PMC3896344  PMID: 24465391
5.  Sense of achievement 
eLife  2013;2:e01605.
Computational techniques developed to predict if odorants will interact with receptors in the olfactory system have achieved a success rate of 70%.
PMCID: PMC3796312  PMID: 24137552
Odorant receptors; antenna; electrophysiology; cheminformatics; D. melanogaster
6.  Host Plant Odors Represent Immiscible Information Entities - Blend Composition and Concentration Matter in Hawkmoths 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77135.
Host plant choice is of vital importance for egg laying herbivorous insects that do not exhibit brood care. Several aspects, including palatability, nutritional quality and predation risk, have been found to modulate host preference. Olfactory cues are thought to enable host location. However, experimental data on odor features that allow choosing among alternative hosts while still in flight are not available. It has previously been shown that M. sexta females prefer Datura wrightii compared to Nicotiana attenuata. The bouquet of the latter is more intense and contains compounds typically emitted by plants after feeding-damage to attract the herbivore’s enemies. In this wind tunnel study, we offered female gravid hawkmoths (Manduca sexta) odors from these two ecologically relevant, attractive, non-flowering host species. M. sexta females preferred surrogate leaves scented with vegetative odors form both host species to unscented control leaves. Given a choice between species, females preferred the odor bouquet emitted by D. wrightii to that of N. attenuata. Harmonizing, i.e. adjusting, volatile intensity to similar levels did not abolish but significantly weakened this preference. Superimposing, i.e. mixing, the highly attractive headspaces of both species, however, abolished discrimination between scented and non-scented surrogate leaves. Beyond ascertaining the role of blend composition in host plant choice, our results raise the following hypotheses. (i) The odor of a host species is perceived as a discrete odor ‘Gestalt’, and its core properties are lost upon mixing two attractive scents (ii). Stimulus intensity is a secondary feature affecting olfactory-based host choice (iii). Constitutively smelling like a plant that is attracting herbivore enemies may be part of a plant’s strategy to avoid herbivory where alternative hosts are available to the herbivore.
PMCID: PMC3792911  PMID: 24116211
7.  The CCHamide 1 receptor modulates sensory perception and olfactory behavior in starved Drosophila 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:2765.
The olfactory response of the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster to food odor is modulated by starvation. Here we show that this modulation is not restricted to food odors and their detecting sensory neurons but rather increases the behavioral response to odors as different as food odors, repellents and pheromones. The increased behavioral responsiveness is paralleled by an increased physiological sensitivity of sensory neurons regardless whether they express olfactory or ionotropic receptors and regardless whether they are housed in basiconic, coeloconic, or trichoid sensilla. Silencing several genes that become up-regulated under starvation confirmed the involvement of the short neuropeptide f receptor in the starvation effect. In addition it revealed that the CCHamide-1 receptor is another important factor governing starvation-induced olfactory modifications.
PMCID: PMC3783891  PMID: 24067446
8.  Intraspecific Combinations of Flower and Leaf Volatiles Act Together in Attracting Hawkmoth Pollinators 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e72805.
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.
PMCID: PMC3771915  PMID: 24069159
9.  Sequencing of Culex quinquefasciatus establishes a platform for mosquito comparative genomics 
Arensburger, Peter | Megy, Karine | Waterhouse, Robert M. | Abrudan, Jenica | Amedeo, Paolo | Antelo, Beatriz | Bartholomay, Lyric | Bidwell, Shelby | Caler, Elisabet | Camara, Francisco | Campbell, Corey L. | Campbell, Kathryn S. | Casola, Claudio | Castro, Marta T. | Chandramouliswaran, Ishwar | Chapman, Sinéad B. | Christley, Scott | Costas, Javier | Eisenstadt, Eric | Feshotte, Cedric | Fraser-Liggett, Claire | Guigo, Roderic | Haas, Brian | Hammond, Martin | Hansson, Bill S. | Hemingway, Janet | Hill, Sharon | Howarth, Clint | Ignell, Rickard | Kennedy, Ryan C. | Kodira, Chinnappa D. | Lobo, Neil F. | Mao, Chunhong | Mayhew, George | Michel, Kristin | Mori, Akio | Liu, Nannan | Naveira, Horacio | Nene, Vishvanath | Nguyen, Nam | Pearson, Matthew D. | Pritham, Ellen J. | Puiu, Daniela | Qi, Yumin | Ranson, Hilary | Ribeiro, Jose M. C. | Roberston, Hugh M. | Severson, David W. | Shumway, Martin | Stanke, Mario | Strausberg, Robert | Sun, Cheng | Sutton, Granger | Tu, Zhijian (Jake) | Tubio, Jose Manuel C. | Unger, Maria F. | Vanlandingham, Dana L. | Vilella, Albert J. | White, Owen | White, Jared R. | Wondji, Charles S. | Wortman, Jennifer | Zdobnov, Evgeny M. | Birren, Bruce | Christensen, Bruce M. | Collins, Frank H. | Cornel, Anthony | Dimopoulos, George | Hannick, Linda I. | Higgs, Stephen | Lanzaro, Gregory C. | Lawson, Daniel | Lee, Norman H. | Muskavitch, Marc A. T. | Raikhel, Alexander S. | Atkinson, Peter W.
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2010;330(6000):86-88.
Culex quinquefasciatus (the Southern house mosquito) is an important mosquito vector of viruses such as West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis virus as well of nematodes that cause lymphatic filariasis. It is one species within the Culex pipiens species complex and enjoys a distribution throughout tropical and temperate climates of the world. The ability of C. quinquefasciatus to take blood meals from birds, livestock and humans contributes to its ability to vector pathogens between species. We describe the genomic sequence of C. quinquefasciatus, its repertoire of 18,883 protein-coding genes is 22% larger than Ae. aegypti and 52% larger than An. gambiae with multiple gene family expansions including olfactory and gustatory receptors, salivary gland genes, and genes associated with xenobiotic detoxification.
PMCID: PMC3740384  PMID: 20929810
10.  Divergence in Olfactory Host Plant Preference in D. mojavensis in Response to Cactus Host Use 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e70027.
Divergence in host adaptive traits has been well studied from an ecological and evolutionary perspective, but identification of the proximate mechanisms underlying such divergence is less well understood. Behavioral preferences for host plants are often mediated by olfaction and shifts in preference may be accompanied by changes in the olfactory system. In this study, we examine the evolution of host plant preferences in cactophilic Drosophila mojavensis that feeds and breeds on different cacti throughout its range. We show divergence in electrophysiological responses and olfactory behavior among populations with host plant shifts. Specifically, significant divergence was observed in the Mojave Desert population that specializes on barrel cactus. Differences were observed in electrophysiological responses of the olfactory organs and in behavioral responses to barrel cactus volatiles. Together our results suggest that the peripheral nervous system has changed in response to different ecological environments and that these changes likely contribute to divergence among D. mojavensis populations.
PMCID: PMC3723661  PMID: 23936137
11.  Flexible weighing of olfactory and vector information in the desert ant Cataglyphis fortis 
Biology Letters  2013;9(3):20130070.
Desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis, are equipped with remarkable skills that enable them to navigate efficiently. When travelling between the nest and a previously visited feeding site, they perform path integration (PI), but pinpoint the nest or feeder by following odour plumes. Homing ants respond to nest plumes only when the path integrator indicates that they are near home. This is crucial, as homing ants often pass through plumes emanating from foreign nests and do not discriminate between the plume of their own and that of a foreign nest, but should absolutely avoid entering a wrong nest. Their behaviour towards food odours differs greatly. Here, we show that in ants on the way to food, olfactory information outweighs PI information. Although PI guides ants back to a learned feeder, the ants respond to food odours independently of whether or not they are close to the learned feeding site. This ability is beneficial, as new food sources—unlike foreign nests—never pose a threat but enable ants to shorten distances travelled while foraging. While it has been shown that navigating C. fortis ants rely strongly on PI, we report here that the ants retained the necessary flexibility in the use of PI.
PMCID: PMC3645040  PMID: 23594568
Cataglyphis; path integration; odour plume; homing; foraging; navigation
12.  Correction: Feeding-induced rearrangement of green leaf volatiles reduces moth oviposition 
eLife  2013;2:e00992.
PMCID: PMC3679526
Manduca sexta; plant volatiles; oviposition; Ca imaging; Datura wrightii; Other
13.  Host plant-driven sensory specialization in Drosophila erecta 
Finding appropriate feeding and breeding sites is crucial for all insects. To fulfil this vital task, many insects rely on their sense of smell. Alterations in the habitat—or in lifestyle—should accordingly also be reflected in the olfactory system. Solid functional evidence for direct adaptations in the olfactory system is however scarce. We have, therefore, examined the sense of smell of Drosophila erecta, a close relative of Drosophila melanogaster and specialist on screw pine fruits (Pandanus spp.). In comparison with three sympatric sibling species, D. erecta shows specific alterations in its olfactory system towards detection and processing of a characteristic Pandanus volatile (3-methyl-2-butenyl acetate, 3M2BA). We show that D. erecta is more sensitive towards this substance, and that the increased sensitivity derives from a numerical increase of one olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) class. We also show that axons from these OSNs form a complex of enlarged glomeruli in the antennal lobe, the first olfactory brain centre, of D. erecta. Finally, we show that 3M2BA induces oviposition in D. erecta, but not in D. melanogaster. The presumed adaptations observed here follow to a remarkable degree those found in Drosophila sechellia, a specialist upon noni fruit, and suggest a general principle for how specialization affects the sense of smell.
PMCID: PMC3652467  PMID: 23595274
insect olfaction; specialization; Drosophila; oviposition
14.  Feeding-induced rearrangement of green leaf volatiles reduces moth oviposition 
eLife  2013;2:e00421.
The ability to decrypt volatile plant signals is essential if herbivorous insects are to optimize their choice of host plants for their offspring. Green leaf volatiles (GLVs) constitute a widespread group of defensive plant volatiles that convey a herbivory-specific message via their isomeric composition: feeding of the tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta converts (Z)-3- to (E)-2-GLVs thereby attracting predatory insects. Here we show that this isomer-coded message is monitored by ovipositing M. sexta females. We detected the isomeric shift in the host plant Datura wrightii and performed functional imaging in the primary olfactory center of M. sexta females with GLV structural isomers. We identified two isomer-specific regions responding to either (Z)-3- or (E)-2-hexenyl acetate. Field experiments demonstrated that ovipositing Manduca moths preferred (Z)-3-perfumed D. wrightii over (E)-2-perfumed plants. These results show that (E)-2-GLVs and/or specific (Z)-3/(E)-2-ratios provide information regarding host plant attack by conspecifics that ovipositing hawkmoths use for host plant selection.
eLife digest
Plants have developed a variety of strategies to defend themselves against herbivorous animals, particularly insects. In addition to mechanical defences such as thorns and spines, plants also produce compounds known as secondary metabolites that keep insects and other herbivores at bay by acting as repellents or toxins. Some of these metabolites are produced on a continuous basis by plants, whereas others—notably compounds called green-leaf volatiles—are only produced once the plant has been attacked. Green-leaf volatiles—which are also responsible for the smell of freshly cut grass—have been observed to provide plants with both direct protection, by inhibiting or repelling herbivores, and indirect protection, by attracting predators of the herbivores themselves.
The hawkmoth Manduca sexta lays its eggs on various plants, including tobacco plants and sacred Datura plants. Once the eggs have hatched into caterpillars, they start eating the leaves of their host plant, and if present in large numbers, these caterpillars can quickly defoliate and destroy it. In an effort to defend itself, the host plant releases green-leaf volatiles to attract various species of Geocoris, and these bugs eat the eggs.
One of the green-leaf volatiles released by tobacco plants is known as (Z)-3-hexenal, but enzymes released by M. sexta caterpillars change some of these molecules into (E)-2-hexenal, which has the same chemical formula but a different structure. The resulting changes in the ‘volatile profile’ alerts Geocoris bugs to the presence of M. sexta eggs and caterpillars on the plant.
Now Allmann et al. show that adult female M. sexta moths can also detect similar changes in the volatile profile emitted by sacred Datura plants that have been damaged by M. sexta caterpillars. This alerts the moths to the fact that Geocoris bugs are likely to be attacking eggs and caterpillars on the plant, or on their way to the plant, so they lay their eggs on other plants. This reduces competition for resources and also reduces the risk of newly laid eggs being eaten by predators. Allmann et al. also identified the neural mechanism that allows moths to detect changes in the volatile profile of plants—the E- and Z- odours lead to different activation patterns in the moth brain.
PMCID: PMC3654435  PMID: 23682312
Manduca sexta; plant volatiles; oviposition; Ca imaging; Datura wrightii; Other
15.  In situ Tip-Recordings Found No Evidence for an Orco-Based Ionotropic Mechanism of Pheromone-Transduction in Manduca sexta 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e62648.
The mechanisms of insect odor transduction are still controversial. Insect odorant receptors (ORs) are 7TM receptors with inverted membrane topology. They colocalize with a conserved coreceptor (Orco) with chaperone and ion channel function. Some studies suggest that insects employ exclusively ionotropic odor transduction via OR-Orco heteromers. Other studies provide evidence for different metabotropic odor transduction cascades, which employ second messenger-gated ion channel families for odor transduction. The hawkmoth Manduca sexta is an established model organism for studies of insect olfaction, also due to the availability of the hawkmoth-specific pheromone blend with its main component bombykal. Previous patch-clamp studies on primary cell cultures of M. sexta olfactory receptor neurons provided evidence for a pheromone-dependent activation of a phospholipase Cβ. Pheromone application elicited a sequence of one rapid, apparently IP3-dependent, transient and two slower Ca2+-dependent inward currents. It remains unknown whether additionally an ionotropic pheromone-transduction mechanism is employed. If indeed an OR-Orco ion channel complex underlies an ionotropic mechanism, then Orco agonist-dependent opening of the OR-Orco channel pore should add up to pheromone-dependent opening of the pore. Here, in tip-recordings from intact pheromone-sensitive sensilla, perfusion with the Orco agonist VUAA1 did not increase pheromone-responses within the first 1000 ms. However, VUAA1 increased spontaneous activity of olfactory receptor neurons Zeitgebertime- and dose-dependently. We conclude that we find no evidence for an Orco-dependent ionotropic pheromone transduction cascade in M. sexta. Instead, in M. sexta Orco appears to be a slower, second messenger-dependent pacemaker channel which affects kinetics and threshold of pheromone-detection via changes of intracellular Ca2+ baseline concentrations.
PMCID: PMC3643954  PMID: 23671617
16.  Antennal transcriptome analysis of the chemosensory gene families in the tree killing bark beetles, Ips typographus and Dendroctonus ponderosae (Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Scolytinae) 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:198.
The European spruce bark beetle, Ips typographus, and the North American mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae (Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Scolytinae), are severe pests of coniferous forests. Both bark beetle species utilize aggregation pheromones to coordinate mass-attacks on host trees, while odorants from host and non-host trees modulate the pheromone response. Thus, the bark beetle olfactory sense is of utmost importance for fitness. However, information on the genes underlying olfactory detection has been lacking in bark beetles and is limited in Coleoptera. We assembled antennal transcriptomes from next-generation sequencing of I. typographus and D. ponderosae to identify members of the major chemosensory multi-gene families.
Gene ontology (GO) annotation indicated that the relative abundance of transcripts associated with specific GO terms was highly similar in the two species. Transcripts with terms related to olfactory function were found in both species. Focusing on the chemosensory gene families, we identified 15 putative odorant binding proteins (OBP), 6 chemosensory proteins (CSP), 3 sensory neuron membrane proteins (SNMP), 43 odorant receptors (OR), 6 gustatory receptors (GR), and 7 ionotropic receptors (IR) in I. typographus; and 31 putative OBPs, 11 CSPs, 3 SNMPs, 49 ORs, 2 GRs, and 15 IRs in D. ponderosae. Predicted protein sequences were compared with counterparts in the flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, the cerambycid beetle, Megacyllene caryae, and the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. The most notable result was found among the ORs, for which large bark beetle-specific expansions were found. However, some clades contained receptors from all four beetle species, indicating a degree of conservation among some coleopteran OR lineages. Putative GRs for carbon dioxide and orthologues for the conserved antennal IRs were included in the identified receptor sets.
The protein families important for chemoreception have now been identified in three coleopteran species (four species for the ORs). Thus, this study allows for improved evolutionary analyses of coleopteran olfaction. Identification of these proteins in two of the most destructive forest pests, sharing many semiochemicals, is especially important as they might represent novel targets for population control.
PMCID: PMC3610139  PMID: 23517120
Ips typographus; Dendroctonus ponderosae; Gene ontology; Transcriptome; Odorant receptor; Ionotropic receptor; Gustatory receptor; Odorant binding protein; Chemosensory Protein; Sensory neuron membrane protein
18.  Insect Odorant Response Sensitivity Is Tuned by Metabotropically Autoregulated Olfactory Receptors 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e58889.
Insects possess one of the most exquisitely sensitive olfactory systems in the animal kingdom, consisting of three different types of chemosensory receptors: ionotropic glutamate-like receptors (IRs), gustatory receptors (GRs) and odorant receptors (ORs). Both insect ORs and IRs are ligand-gated ion channels, but ORs possess a unique configuration composed of an odorant-specific protein OrX and a ubiquitous coreceptor (Orco). In addition, these two ionotropic receptors confer different tuning properties for the neurons in which they are expressed. Unlike IRs, neurons expressing ORs are more sensitive and can also be sensitized by sub-threshold concentrations of stimuli. What is the mechanistic basis for these differences in tuning? We show that intrinsic regulation of Orco enhances neuronal response to odorants and sensitizes the ORs. We also demonstrate that inhibition of metabotropic regulation prevents receptor sensitization. Our results indicate that Orco-mediated regulation of OR sensitivity provides tunable ionotropic receptors capable of detecting odors over a wider range of concentrations, providing broadened sensitivity over IRs themselves.
PMCID: PMC3595248  PMID: 23554952
19.  The hermit crab's nose—antennal transcriptomics 
In the course of evolution, crustaceans adapted to a large variety of habitats. Probably the most extreme habitat shift was the transition from water to land, which occurred independently in at least five crustacean lineages. This substantial change in life style required adaptations in sensory organs, as the medium conveying stimuli changed in both chemical and physical properties. One important sensory organ in crustaceans is the first pair of antennae, housing their sense of smell. Previous studies on the crustacean transition from water to land focused on morphological, behavioral, and physiological aspects but did not analyze gene expression. Our goal was to scrutinize the molecular makeup of the crustacean antennulae, comparing the terrestrial Coenobita clypeatus and the marine Pagurus bernhardus. We sequenced and analyzed the antennal transcriptomes of two hermit crab species. Comparison to previously published datasets of similar tissues revealed a comparable quality and GO annotation confirmed a highly similar set of expressed genes in both datasets. The chemosensory gene repertoire of both species displayed a similar set of ionotropic receptors (IRs), most of them belonging to the divergent IR subtype. No binding proteins, gustatory receptors (GRs) or insect-like olfactory receptors (ORs) were present. Additionally to their olfactory function, the antennules were equipped with a variety of pathogen defense mechanisms, producing relevant substances on site. The overall similarity of both transcriptomes is high and does not indicate a general shift in genetic makeup connected to the change in habitat. IRs seem to perform the task of olfactory detection in both hermit crab species studied.
PMCID: PMC3897217  PMID: 24478616
crustacea; antennules; olfaction; molecular evolution; genomics
20.  Giant Robber Crabs Monitored from Space: GPS-Based Telemetric Studies on Christmas Island (Indian Ocean) 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49809.
We investigated the navigational capabilities of the world's largest land-living arthropod, the giant robber crab Birgus latro (Anomura, Coenobitidae); this crab reaches 4 kg in weight and can reach an age of up to 60 years. Populations are distributed over small Indo-Pacific islands of the tropics, including Christmas Island (Indian Ocean). Although this species has served as a crustacean model to explore anatomical, physiological, and ecological aspects of terrestrial adaptations, few behavioral analyses of it exist. We used a GPS-based telemetric system to analyze movements of freely roaming robber crabs, the first large-scale study of any arthropod using GPS technology to monitor behavior. Although female robber crabs are known to migrate to the coast for breeding, no such observations have been recorded for male animals. In total, we equipped 55 male robber crabs with GPS tags, successfully recording more than 1,500 crab days of activity, and followed some individual animals for as long as three months. Besides site fidelity with short-distance excursions, our data reveal long-distance movements (several kilometers) between the coast and the inland rainforest. These movements are likely related to mating, saltwater drinking and foraging. The tracking patterns indicate that crabs form route memories. Furthermore, translocation experiments show that robber crabs are capable of homing over large distances. We discuss if the search behavior induced in these experiments suggests path integration as another important navigation strategy.
PMCID: PMC3498180  PMID: 23166774
21.  Neuropeptide complexity in the crustacean central olfactory pathway: immunolocalization of A-type allatostatins and RFamide-like peptides in the brain of a terrestrial hermit crab 
Molecular Brain  2012;5:29.
In the olfactory system of malacostracan crustaceans, axonal input from olfactory receptor neurons associated with aesthetascs on the animal’s first pair of antennae target primary processing centers in the median brain, the olfactory lobes. The olfactory lobes are divided into cone-shaped synaptic areas, the olfactory glomeruli where afferents interact with local olfactory interneurons and olfactory projection neurons. The local olfactory interneurons display a large diversity of neurotransmitter phenotypes including biogenic amines and neuropeptides. Furthermore, the malacostracan olfactory glomeruli are regionalized into cap, subcap, and base regions and these compartments are defined by the projection patterns of the afferent olfactory receptor neurons, the local olfactory interneurons, and the olfactory projection neurons. We wanted to know how neurons expressing A-type allatostatins (A-ASTs; synonym dip-allatostatins) integrate into this system, a large family of neuropeptides that share the C-terminal motif –YXFGLamide.
We used an antiserum that was raised against the A-type Diploptera punctata (Dip)-allatostatin I to analyse the distribution of this peptide in the brain of a terrestrial hermit crab, Coenobita clypeatus (Anomura, Coenobitidae). Allatostatin A-like immunoreactivity (ASTir) was widely distributed in the animal’s brain, including the visual system, central complex and olfactory system. We focussed our analysis on the central olfactory pathway in which ASTir was abundant in the primary processing centers, the olfactory lobes, and also in the secondary centers, the hemiellipsoid bodies. In the olfactory lobes, we further explored the spatial relationship of olfactory interneurons with ASTir to interneurons that synthesize RFamide-like peptides. We found that these two peptides are present in distinct populations of local olfactory interneurons and that their synaptic fields within the olfactory glomeruli are also mostly distinct.
We discuss our findings against the background of the known neurotransmitter complexity in the crustacean olfactory pathway and summarize what is now about the neuronal connectivity in the olfactory glomeruli. A-type allatostatins, in addition to their localization in protocerebral brain areas, seem to be involved in modulating the olfactory signal at the level of the deutocerebrum. They contribute to the complex local circuits within the crustacean olfactory glomeruli the connectivity within which as yet is completely unclear. Because the glomeruli of C. clypeatus display a distinct pattern of regionalization, their olfactory systems form an ideal model to explore the functional relevance of glomerular compartments and diversity of local olfactory interneurons for olfactory processing in crustaceans.
PMCID: PMC3523048  PMID: 22967845
Coenobita clypeatus; Hermit crab; Olfactory lobe; Central complex; Neuropeptide; Immunhistochemistry; Allatostatin
22.  Sensing the Underground – Ultrastructure and Function of Sensory Organs in Root-Feeding Melolontha melolontha (Coleoptera: Scarabaeinae) Larvae 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41357.
Below ground orientation in insects relies mainly on olfaction and taste. The economic impact of plant root feeding scarab beetle larvae gave rise to numerous phylogenetic and ecological studies. Detailed knowledge of the sensory capacities of these larvae is nevertheless lacking. Here, we present an atlas of the sensory organs on larval head appendages of Melolontha melolontha. Our ultrastructural and electrophysiological investigations allow annotation of functions to various sensory structures.
Three out of 17 ascertained sensillum types have olfactory, and 7 gustatory function. These sensillum types are unevenly distributed between antennae and palps. The most prominent chemosensory organs are antennal pore plates that in total are innervated by approximately one thousand olfactory sensory neurons grouped into functional units of three-to-four. In contrast, only two olfactory sensory neurons innervate one sensillum basiconicum on each of the palps. Gustatory sensilla chaetica dominate the apices of all head appendages, while only the palps bear thermo-/hygroreceptors. Electrophysiological responses to CO2, an attractant for many root feeders, are exclusively observed in the antennae. Out of 54 relevant volatile compounds, various alcohols, acids, amines, esters, aldehydes, ketones and monoterpenes elicit responses in antennae and palps. All head appendages are characterized by distinct olfactory response profiles that are even enantiomer specific for some compounds.
Chemosensory capacities in M. melolontha larvae are as highly developed as in many adult insects. We interpret the functional sensory units underneath the antennal pore plates as cryptic sensilla placodea and suggest that these perceive a broad range of secondary plant metabolites together with CO2. Responses to olfactory stimulation of the labial and maxillary palps indicate that typical contact chemo-sensilla have a dual gustatory and olfactory function.
PMCID: PMC3405142  PMID: 22848471
23.  Transition from sea to land: olfactory function and constraints in the terrestrial hermit crab Coenobita clypeatus 
The ability to identify chemical cues in the environment is essential to most animals. Apart from marine larval stages, anomuran land hermit crabs (Coenobita) have evolved different degrees of terrestriality, and thus represent an excellent opportunity to investigate adaptations of the olfactory system needed for a successful transition from aquatic to terrestrial life. Although superb processing capacities of the central olfactory system have been indicated in Coenobita and their olfactory system evidently is functional on land, virtually nothing was known about what type of odourants are detected. Here, we used electroantennogram (EAG) recordings in Coenobita clypeatus and established the olfactory response spectrum. Interestingly, different chemical groups elicited EAG responses of opposite polarity, which also appeared for Coenobita compressus and the closely related marine hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus. Furthermore, in a two-choice bioassay with C. clypeatus, we found that water vapour was critical for natural and synthetic odourants to induce attraction or repulsion. Strikingly, also the physiological response was found much greater at higher humidity in C. clypeatus, whereas no such effect appeared in the terrestrial vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster. In conclusion, our results reveal that the Coenobita olfactory system is restricted to a limited number of water-soluble odourants, and that high humidity is most critical for its function.
PMCID: PMC3396895  PMID: 22673356
olfaction; olfactory system; adaptations; terrestrial crustaceans; odourants
24.  Molecular and Functional Characterization of the Odorant Receptor2 (OR2) in the Tiger Mosquito Aedes albopictus 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e36538.
In mosquitoes, the olfactory system plays a crucial role in many types of behavior, including nectar feeding, host preference selection and oviposition. Aedes albopictus, known also as the tiger mosquito, is an anthropophilic species, which in the last few years, due to its strong ecological plasticity, has spread throughout the world. Although long considered only a secondary vector of viruses, the potential of its vector capacity may constitute a threat to public health. Based on the idea that an improved understanding of the olfactory system of mosquitoes may assist in the development of control methods that interfere with their behavior, we have undertaken a study aimed at characterizing the A. albopictus Odorant Receptors. Here we report the identification, cloning and functional characterization of the AalOR2 ortholog, that represents the first candidate member of the odorant receptor (OR) family of proteins from A. albopictus. AalOR2 is expressed in the larval heads and antennae of adults. Our data indicate that A. albopictus OR2 (AalOR2) shares a high degree of identity with other mosquito OR2 orthologs characterized to date, confirming that OR2 is one of the most conserved mosquito ORs. Our data indicate that AalOR2 is narrowly tuned to indole, and inhibited by (-)-menthone. In agreement with this results, these two compounds elicit two opposite effects on the olfactory-based behavior of A. albopictus larvae, as determined through a larval behavioral assay. In summary, this work has led to the cloning and de-orphaning of the first Odorant Receptor in the tiger mosquito A. albopictus. In future control strategies this receptor may be used as a potential molecular target.
PMCID: PMC3351472  PMID: 22606270
25.  A natural polymorphism alters odour and DEET sensitivity in an insect odorant receptor 
Nature  2011;478(7370):511-514.
Blood-feeding insects such as mosquitoes are efficient vectors of human infectious diseases because they are strongly attracted by body heat, carbon dioxide, and odours produced by their vertebrate hosts. Insect repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) are highly effective, but the mechanism by which this chemical wards off biting insects remains controversial despite decades of investigation1-11. DEET appears to act both at close range as a contact chemorepellent by acting on insect gustatory receptors12 and at long range by acting on the olfactory system1-11. Two opposing mechanisms for the observed behavioural effects of DEET in the gas phase have been proposed: that DEET interferes with the olfactory system to block host odour recognition1-7 or that DEET actively repels insects by activating olfactory neurons that elicit avoidance behaviour8-11. Here we show that the insect repellent DEET functions as a modulator of the odour-gated ion channel formed by the insect odorant receptor (OR) complex13, 14. The functional insect OR complex consists of a common co-receptor, Orco (ref. 15, formerly called Or83b, ref16), and one or more variable OR subunits that confer odour-selectivity17. DEET acts on this complex to potentiate or inhibit odour-evoked activity or to inhibit odour-evoked suppression of spontaneous activity. This modulation depends on the specific OR and the concentration and identity of the odour ligand. We identify a single amino acid polymorphism in the second transmembrane domain of Or59b in a Drosophila melanogaster strain from Brazil that renders this receptor insensitive to inhibition by the odour ligand and modulation by DEET. These data provide the first evidence that natural variation can modify the sensitivity of an odour-specific insect OR to odour ligands and DEET. Our data support the hypothesis that DEET acts as a molecular “confusant” that scrambles the insect odour code and provide a compelling explanation for the broad-spectrum efficacy of DEET against multiple insect species.
PMCID: PMC3203342  PMID: 21937991

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