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1.  Changes in Odor Background Affect the Locomotory Response to Pheromone in Moths 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e52897.
Many animals rely on chemical cues to recognize and locate a resource, and they must extract the relevant information from a complex and changing odor environment. For example, in moths, finding a mate is mediated by a sex pheromone, which is detected in a rich environment of volatile plant compounds. Here, we investigated the effects of a volatile plant background on the walking response of male Spodoptera littoralis to the female pheromone. Males were stimulated by combining pheromone with one of three plant compounds, and their walking paths were recorded with a locomotion compensator and analyzed. We found that the addition of certain volatile plant compounds disturbed the orientation toward the sex pheromone. The effect on locomotion was correlated with the capacity of the plant compound to antagonize pheromone detection by olfactory receptor neurons, suggesting a masking effect of the background over the pheromone signal. Moths were more sensitive to changes in background compared to a constant background, suggesting that a background odor also acts as a distracting stimulus. Our experiments show that the effects of odorant background on insect responses to chemical signals are complex and cannot be explained by a single mechanism.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052897
PMCID: PMC3534683  PMID: 23301000
2.  Brief Exposure to Sensory Cues Elicits Stimulus-Nonspecific General Sensitization in an Insect 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e34141.
The effect of repeated exposure to sensory stimuli, with or without reward is well known to induce stimulus-specific modifications of behaviour, described as different forms of learning. In recent studies we showed that a brief single pre-exposure to the female-produced sex pheromone or even a predator sound can increase the behavioural and central nervous responses to this pheromone in males of the noctuid moth Spodoptera littoralis. To investigate if this increase in sensitivity might be restricted to the pheromone system or is a form of general sensitization, we studied here if a brief pre-exposure to stimuli of different modalities can reciprocally change behavioural and physiological responses to olfactory and gustatory stimuli. Olfactory and gustatory pre-exposure and subsequent behavioural tests were carried out to reveal possible intra- and cross-modal effects. Attraction to pheromone, monitored with a locomotion compensator, increased after exposure to olfactory and gustatory stimuli. Behavioural responses to sucrose, investigated using the proboscis extension reflex, increased equally after pre-exposure to olfactory and gustatory cues. Pheromone-specific neurons in the brain and antennal gustatory neurons did, however, not change their sensitivity after sucrose exposure. The observed intra- and reciprocal cross-modal effects of pre-exposure may represent a new form of stimulus-nonspecific general sensitization originating from modifications at higher sensory processing levels.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034141
PMCID: PMC3311575  PMID: 22457821
3.  A General Odorant Background Affects the Coding of Pheromone Stimulus Intermittency in Specialist Olfactory Receptor Neurones 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26443.
In nature the aerial trace of pheromone used by male moths to find a female appears as a train of discontinuous pulses separated by gaps among a complex odorant background constituted of plant volatiles. We investigated the effect of such background odor on behavior and coding of temporal parameters of pheromone pulse trains in the pheromone olfactory receptor neurons of Spodoptera littoralis. Effects of linalool background were tested by measuring walking behavior towards a source of pheromone. While velocity and orientation index did drop when linalool was turned on, both parameters recovered back to pre-background values after 40 s with linalool still present. Photo-ionization detector was used to characterize pulse delivery by our stimulator. The photo-ionization detector signal reached 71% of maximum amplitude at 50 ms pulses and followed the stimulus period at repetition rates up to 10 pulses/s. However, at high pulse rates the concentration of the odorant did not return to base level during inter-pulse intervals. Linalool decreased the intensity and shortened the response of receptor neurons to pulses. High contrast (>10 dB) in firing rate between pulses and inter-pulse intervals was observed for 1 and 4 pulses/s, both with and without background. Significantly more neurons followed the 4 pulses/s pattern when delivered over linalool; at the same time the information content was preserved almost to the control values. Rapid recovery of behavior shows that change of perceived intensity is more important than absolute stimulus intensity. While decreasing the response intensity, background odor preserved the temporal parameters of the specific signal.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026443
PMCID: PMC3196569  PMID: 22028879
4.  Characterization of an Antennal Carboxylesterase from the Pest Moth Spodoptera littoralis Degrading a Host Plant Odorant 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e15026.
Background
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.
Methodology
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.
Conclusion
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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0015026
PMCID: PMC2993938  PMID: 21124773

Results 1-4 (4)