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1.  Feeding and Defecation Behavior of Triatoma rubida (Uhler, 1894) (Hemiptera: Reduviidae) under Laboratory Conditions, and Its Potential Role as a Vector of Chagas Disease in Arizona, USA 
Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to humans by blood-sucking triatomine insects. This disease is endemic throughout Mexico and Central and South America, but only a few autochthonous cases have been reported in the United States, despite the fact that infected insects readily invade houses and feed on humans. Competent vectors defecate during or shortly after feeding so that infective feces contact the host. We thus studied the feeding and defecation behaviors of the prevalent species in southern Arizona, Triatoma rubida. We found that whereas defecation during feeding was frequent in females (93%), it was very rare in immature stages (3%), and absent in males. Furthermore, more than half of the immature insects that exhibited multiple feeding bouts (62%) defecated during interruptions of feeding, i.e., while likely on or near the host. These results indicate that T. rubida potentially could transmit T. cruzi to humans.
PMCID: PMC3183772  PMID: 21976567
2.  Spiking Patterns and Their Functional Implications in the Antennal Lobe of the Tobacco Hornworm Manduca sexta 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23382.
Bursting as well as tonic firing patterns have been described in various sensory systems. In the olfactory system, spontaneous bursts have been observed in neurons distributed across several synaptic levels, from the periphery, to the olfactory bulb (OB) and to the olfactory cortex. Several in vitro studies indicate that spontaneous firing patterns may be viewed as “fingerprints” of different types of neurons that exhibit distinct functions in the OB. It is still not known, however, if and how neuronal burstiness is correlated with the coding of natural olfactory stimuli. We thus conducted an in vivo study to probe this question in the OB equivalent structure of insects, the antennal lobe (AL) of the tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta. We found that in the moth's AL, both projection (output) neurons (PNs) and local interneurons (LNs) are spontaneously active, but PNs tend to produce spike bursts while LNs fire more regularly. In addition, we found that the burstiness of PNs is correlated with the strength of their responses to odor stimulation – the more bursting the stronger their responses to odors. Moreover, the burstiness of PNs was also positively correlated with the spontaneous firing rate of these neurons, and pharmacological reduction of bursting resulted in a decrease of the neurons' responsiveness. These results suggest that neuronal burstiness reflects a physiological state of these neurons that is directly linked to their response characteristics.
PMCID: PMC3163580  PMID: 21897842
3.  Antagonistic effects of floral scent in an insect–plant interaction 
In southwestern USA, the jimsonweed Datura wrightii and the nocturnal moth Manduca sexta form a pollinator–plant and herbivore–plant association. Because the floral scent is probably important in mediating this interaction, we investigated the floral volatiles that might attract M. sexta for feeding and oviposition. We found that flower volatiles increase oviposition and include small amounts of both enantiomers of linalool, a common component of the scent of hawkmoth-pollinated flowers. Because (+)-linalool is processed in a female-specific glomerulus in the primary olfactory centre of M. sexta, we hypothesized that the enantiomers of linalool differentially modulate feeding and oviposition. Using a synthetic mixture that mimics the D. wrightii floral scent, we found that the presence of linalool was not necessary to evoke feeding and that mixtures containing (+)- and/or (−)-linalool were equally effective in mediating this behaviour. By contrast, females oviposited more on plants emitting (+)-linalool (alone or in mixtures) over control plants, while plants emitting (−)-linalool (alone or in mixtures) were less preferred than control plants. Together with our previous investigations, these results show that linalool has differential effects in feeding and oviposition through two neural pathways: one that is sexually isomorphic and non-enantioselective, and another that is female-specific and enantioselective.
PMCID: PMC2894902  PMID: 20335210
olfaction; moth; oviposition; Manduca sexta
4.  Infection of Kissing Bugs with Trypanosoma cruzi, Tucson, Arizona, USA 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2010;16(3):400-405.
A survey of triatomine insects found that 41.5% were infected with the causative agent of Chagas disease.
Triatomine insects (Hemiptera: Reduviidae), commonly known as kissing bugs, are a potential health problem in the southwestern United States as possible vectors of Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative agent of Chagas disease. Although this disease has been traditionally restricted to Latin America, a small number of vector-transmitted autochthonous US cases have been reported. Because triatomine bugs and infected mammalian reservoirs are plentiful in southern Arizona, we collected triatomines inside or around human houses in Tucson and analyzed the insects using molecular techniques to determine whether they were infected with T. cruzi. We found that 41.5% of collected bugs (n = 164) were infected with T. cruzi, and that 63% of the collection sites (n = 22) yielded >1 infected specimens. Although many factors may contribute to the lack of reported cases in Arizona, these results indicate that the risk for infection in this region may be higher than previously thought.
PMCID: PMC3322010  PMID: 20202413
Chagas disease; Trypanosoma cruzi; triatomines; Triatoma; kissing bugs; Arizona; Triatoma rubida; vector-borne infections; zoonoses; research
5.  Characterization and Coding of Behaviorally Significant Odor Mixtures 
Current biology : CB  2009;19(4):335-340.
For animals to execute odor-driven behaviors, the olfactory system must process complex odor signals and maintain stimulus identity in the face of constantly changing odor intensities [1–5]. Surprisingly, how the olfactory system maintains identity of complex odors is unclear [6–10]. We took advantage of the plant-pollinator relationship between the Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii) and the moth Manduca sexta [11, 12] to determine how olfactory networks in this insect’s brain represent odor mixtures. We combined gas chromatography and neural-ensemble recording in the moth’s antennal lobe to examine population codes for the floral mixture and its fractionated components. Although the floral scent of D. wrightii comprises at least 60 compounds, only nine of those elicited robust neural responses. Behavioral experiments confirmed that these nine odorants mediate flower-foraging behaviors, but only as a mixture. Moreover, the mixture evoked equivalent foraging behaviors over a 1000-fold range in dilution, suggesting a singular percept across this concentration range. Furthermore, neural-ensemble recordings in the moth’s antennal lobe revealed that reliable encoding of the floral mixture is organized through synchronized activity distributed across a population of glomerular coding units, and this timing mechanism may bind the features of a complex stimulus into a coherent odor percept.
PMCID: PMC2677194  PMID: 19230669
6.  Innate Recognition of Pheromone and Food Odors in Moths: A Common Mechanism in the Antennal Lobe? 
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.
PMCID: PMC2955495  PMID: 20953251
floral scent; moths; neuroethology; olfaction; pheromone; sensory coding; sensory object; synchrony
7.  Physical Processes and Real-Time Chemical Measurement of the Insect Olfactory Environment 
Journal of chemical ecology  2008;34(7):837-853.
Odor-mediated insect navigation in airborne chemical plumes is vital to many ecological interactions, including mate finding, flower nectaring, and host locating (where disease transmission or herbivory may begin). After emission, volatile chemicals become rapidly mixed and diluted through physical processes that create a dynamic olfactory environment. This review examines those physical processes and some of the analytical technologies available to characterize those behavior-inducing chemical signals at temporal scales equivalent to the olfactory processing in insects. In particular, we focus on two areas of research that together may further our understanding of olfactory signal dynamics and its processing and perception by insects. First, measurement of physical atmospheric processes in the field can provide insight into the spatiotemporal dynamics of the odor signal available to insects. Field measurements in turn permit aspects of the physical environment to be simulated in the laboratory, thereby allowing careful investigation into the links between odor signal dynamics and insect behavior. Second, emerging analytical technologies with high recording frequencies and field-friendly inlet systems may offer new opportunities to characterize natural odors at spatiotemporal scales relevant to insect perception and behavior. Characterization of the chemical signal environment allows the determination of when and where olfactory-mediated behaviors may control ecological interactions. Finally, we argue that coupling of these two research areas will foster increased understanding of the physicochemical environment and enable researchers to determine how olfactory environments shape insect behaviors and sensory systems.
PMCID: PMC2778261  PMID: 18548311
Odor plume; Insect behavior; Odor-plume tracking; PTRMS; Mass spectrometry; Gas chromatography; Odor landscape
8.  Morphometric modeling of olfactory circuits in the insect antennal lobe: I. Simulations of spiking local interneurons 
Bio Systems  2001;61(2-3):143-153.
Inhibitory local interneurons (LNs) play a critical role in shaping the output of olfactory glomeruli in both the olfactory bulb of vertebrates and the antennal lobe of insects and other invertebrates. In order to examine how the complex geometry of LNs may affect signaling in the antennal lobe, we constructed detailed multi-compartmental models of single LNs from the sphinx moth, Manduca sexta, using morphometric data from confocal-microscopic images. Simulations clearly revealed a directionality in LNs that impeded the propagation of injected currents from the sub-micron-diameter glomerular dendrites toward the much larger-diameter integrating segment (IS) in the coarse neuropil. Furthermore, the addition of randomly-firing synapses distributed across the LN dendrites (simulating the noisy baseline activity of afferent input recorded from LNs in the odor-free state) led to a significant depolarization of the LN. Thus the background activity typically recorded from LNs in vivo could influence synaptic integration and spike transformation in LNs through voltage-dependent mechanisms. Other model manipulations showed that active currents inserted into the IS can help synchronize the activation of inhibitory synapses in glomeruli across the antennal lobe. These data, therefore, support experimental findings suggesting that spiking inhibitory LNs can operate as multifunctional units under different ambient odor conditions. At low odor intensities, (i.e. subthreshold for IS spiking), they participate in local, mostly intra-glomerular processing. When activated by elevated odor concentrations, however, the same neurons will fire overshooting action potentials, resulting in the spread of inhibition more globally across the antennal lobe. Modulation of the passive and active properties of LNs may, therefore, be a deciding factor in defining the multi-glomerular representations of odors in the brain.
PMCID: PMC2773206  PMID: 11716974
Glomeruli; Olfaction; Odor processing; Modulation; Synaptic integration
9.  Neuroethology of Oviposition Behavior in the Moth Manduca sexta 
Olfactory cues play decisive roles in the lives of most insect species, providing information about biologically relevant resources, such as food, mates, and oviposition sites. The nocturnal moth Manduca sexta feeds on floral nectar from a variety of plants (and thus serves as a pollinator), but females oviposit almost exclusively on solanaceous plants, which they recognize on the basis of olfactory cues. Plants, however, respond to herbivory by releasing blends of volatiles that attract natural enemies of herbivores. Thus, oviposition behavior probably results from the sensory evaluation not only of attractive host plant volatiles but also of repellent volatiles that indicate the acceptability or inappropriateness, respectively, of host plants for the females’ offspring. Here we describe results from chemical-ecological, neurophysiological, and behavioral experiments aimed at understanding the neural mechanisms that control oviposition behavior in M. sexta.
PMCID: PMC2766020  PMID: 19686178
olfaction; insect; herbivory; moth; Manduca sexta; oviposition; insect
10.  Contrast enhancement of stimulus intermittency in a primary olfactory network and its behavioral significance 
Journal of Biology  2009;8(2):21.
An animal navigating to an unseen odor source must accurately resolve the spatiotemporal distribution of that stimulus in order to express appropriate upwind flight behavior. Intermittency of natural odor plumes, caused by air turbulence, is critically important for many insects, including the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, for odor-modulated search behavior to an odor source. When a moth's antennae receive intermittent odor stimulation, the projection neurons (PNs) in the primary olfactory centers (the antennal lobes), which are analogous to the olfactory bulbs of vertebrates, generate discrete bursts of action potentials separated by periods of inhibition, suggesting that the PNs may use the binary burst/non-burst neural patterns to resolve and enhance the intermittency of the stimulus encountered in the odor plume.
We tested this hypothesis first by establishing that bicuculline methiodide reliably and reversibly disrupted the ability of PNs to produce bursting response patterns. Behavioral studies, in turn, demonstrated that after injecting this drug into the antennal lobe at the effective concentration used in the physiological experiments animals could no longer efficiently locate the odor source, even though they had detected the odor signal.
Our results establish a direct link between the bursting response pattern of PNs and the odor-tracking behavior of the moth, demonstrating the behavioral significance of resolving the dynamics of a natural odor stimulus in antennal lobe circuits.
PMCID: PMC2687775  PMID: 19232128
11.  Recent Advances in Insect Olfaction, Specifically Regarding the Morphology and Sensory Physiology of Antennal Sensilla of the Female Sphinx Moth Manduca sexta 
Microscopy research and technique  2001;55(5):307-329.
The antennal flagellum of female Manduca sexta bears eight sensillum types: two trichoid, two basiconic, one auriculate, two coeloconic, and one styliform complex sensilla. The first type of trichoid sensillum averages 34 μm in length and is innervated by two sensory cells. The second type averages 26 μm in length and is innervated by either one or three sensory cells. The first type of basiconic sensillum averages 22 μm in length, while the second type averages 15 μm in length. Both types are innervated by three bipolar sensory cells. The auriculate sensillum averages 4 μm in length and is innervated by two bipolar sensory cells. The coeloconic type-A and type-B both average 2 μm in length. The former type is innervated by five bipolar sensory cells, while the latter type, by three bipolar sensory cells. The styliform complex sensillum occurs singly on each annulus and averages 38-40 μm in length. It is formed by several contiguous sensilla. Each unit is innervated by three bipolar sensory cells. A total of 2,216 sensilla were found on a single annulus (annulus 21) of the flagellum. Electrophysiological responses from type-A trichoid sensilla to a large panel of volatile odorants revealed three different subsets of olfactory receptor cells (ORCs). Two subsets responded strongly to only a narrow range of odorants, while the third responded strongly to a broad range of odorants. Anterograde labeling of ORCs from type-A trichoid sensilla revealed that their axons projected mainly to two large female glomeruli of the antennal lobe.
PMCID: PMC2386875  PMID: 11754510
antennal lobe; chemosensory; electron microscopy; electrophysiology; receptor cell
12.  Chemosensory selectivity of output neurons innervating an identified, sexually isomorphic olfactory glomerulus 
The antennal lobe (AL) of insects, like the olfactory bulb of vertebrates, is characterized by discrete modules of synaptic neuropil called glomeruli. In some insects (e.g. moths and cockroaches) a few glomeruli are sexually dimorphic and function in labeled lines for processing of sensory information about sex pheromones. Controversy still exists, however, about whether projection (output) neurons (PNs) of glomeruli in the main AL are also narrowly tuned. We examined this critical issue in the AL of the moth Manduca sexta. We used intracellular recording and staining techniques to investigate the chemosensory tuning of PNs innervating an identifiable, sexually isomorphic glomerulus, G35, in the main AL. We found that the morphological features and chemosensory tuning of G35-PNs were nearly identical in females and males. G35-PNs responded to low concentrations of the plant-derived volatile compound cis-3-hexenyl acetate (c3HA), but the sensitivity threshold of female PNs was lower than that of male PNs. The propionate and butyrate homologues of c3HA could evoke excitatory responses, but only at moderate-to-high concentrations. Other plant volatiles did not evoke responses from G35-PNs. Moreover, PNs innervating glomeruli near G35 (in females) showed little or no response to c3HA. Female G35-PNs were hyperpolarized by (±)linalool, a compound that excites PNs in an adjacent glomerulus, thus providing evidence for lateral-inhibitory interactions between glomeruli. Our results show that PNs arborizing in an identified glomerulus in the main olfactory pathway are morphologically and physiologically equivalent in both sexes and have characteristic, limited molecular receptive ranges that are highly conserved across individuals.
PMCID: PMC1351300  PMID: 16135759
olfactory; glomerulus; chemosensory; microelectrode; odor; intracellular; insect
13.  Wireless Stimulation of Antennal Muscles in Freely Flying Hawkmoths Leads to Flight Path Changes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e52725.
Insect antennae are sensory organs involved in a variety of behaviors, sensing many different stimulus modalities. As mechanosensors, they are crucial for flight control in the hawkmoth Manduca sexta. One of their roles is to mediate compensatory reflexes of the abdomen in response to rotations of the body in the pitch axis. Abdominal motions, in turn, are a component of the steering mechanism for flying insects. Using a radio controlled, programmable, miniature stimulator, we show that ultra-low-current electrical stimulation of antennal muscles in freely-flying hawkmoths leads to repeatable, transient changes in the animals' pitch angle, as well as less predictable changes in flight speed and flight altitude. We postulate that by deflecting the antennae we indirectly stimulate mechanoreceptors at the base, which drive compensatory reflexes leading to changes in pitch attitude.
PMCID: PMC3530516  PMID: 23300751

Results 1-13 (13)