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1.  Global Survey of Variation in a Human Olfactory Receptor Gene Reveals Signatures of Non-Neutral Evolution 
Chemical Senses  2015;40(7):481-488.
Allelic variation at 4 loci in the human olfactory receptor gene OR7D4 is associated with perceptual variation in the sex steroid-derived odorants, androstenone, and androstadienone. Androstadienone has been linked with chemosensory identification whereas androstenone makes pork from uncastrated pigs distasteful (“boar taint”). In a sample of 2224 individuals from 43 populations, we identified 45 OR7D4 single nucleotide polymorphisms. Coalescent modeling of frequency-site-spectrum-based statistics identified significant deviation from neutrality in human OR7D4; individual populations with statistically significant deviations from neutrality include Gujarati, Beijing Han, Great Britain, Iberia, and Puerto Rico. Analysis of molecular variation values indicated statistically significant population differentiation driven mainly by the 4 alleles associated with androstenone perception variation; however, fixation values were low suggesting that genetic structure may not have played a strong role in creating these group divisions. We also studied OR7D4 in the genomes of extinct members of the human lineage: Altai Neandertal and Denisovan. No variants were identified in Altai but 2 were in Denisova, one of which is shared by modern humans and one of which is novel. A functional test of modern human and a synthesized mutant Denisova OR7D4 indicated no statistically significant difference in responses to androstenone between the 2 species. Our results suggest non-neutral evolution for an olfactory receptor gene.
PMCID: PMC4635637  PMID: 26072518
Altai Neandertal; androstenone perception; Denisova; human variation; OR7D4; selection
2.  The peripheral olfactory code in Drosophila larvae contains temporal information and is robust over multiple timescales 
We studied the electrophysiological activity of two classes of Drosophila melanogaster larval olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs), Or24a and Or74a, in response to 1 s stimulation with butanol, octanol, 2-heptanone, and propyl acetate. Each odour/OSN combination produced unique responses in terms of spike count and temporal profile. We used a classifier algorithm to explore the information content of OSN activity, and showed that as well as spike count, the activity of these OSNs included temporal information that enabled the classifier to accurately identify odours. The responses of OSNs during continuous odour exposure (5 and 20 min) showed that both types of neuron continued to respond, with no complete adaptation, and with no change to their ability to encode temporal information. Finally, we exposed larvae to octanol for 3 days and found only minor quantitative changes in OSN response to odours, indicating that the larval peripheral code is robust when faced with long-term exposure to odours, such as would be found in a natural context.
PMCID: PMC4892805  PMID: 27194701
olfaction; temporal coding; electrophysiology
3.  Incipient speciation in Drosophila melanogaster involves chemical signals 
Scientific Reports  2012;2:224.
The sensory and genetic bases of incipient speciation between strains of Drosophila melanogaster from Zimbabwe and those from elsewhere are unknown. We studied mating behaviour between eight strains – six from Zimbabwe, together with two cosmopolitan strains. The Zimbabwe strains showed significant sexual isolation when paired with cosmopolitan males, due to Zimbabwe females discriminating against these males. Our results show that flies' cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs) were involved in this sexual isolation, but that visual and acoustic signals were not. The mating frequency of Zimbabwe females was highly significantly negatively correlated with the male's relative amount of 7-tricosene (%7-T), while the mating of cosmopolitan females was positively correlated with %7-T. Variation in transcription levels of two hydrocarbon-determining genes, desat1 and desat2, did not correlate with the observed mating patterns. Our study represents a step forward in our understanding of the sensory processes involved in this classic case of incipient speciation.
PMCID: PMC3261631  PMID: 22355738
4.  Modeling Peripheral Olfactory Coding in Drosophila Larvae 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e22996.
The Drosophila larva possesses just 21 unique and identifiable pairs of olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs), enabling investigation of the contribution of individual OSN classes to the peripheral olfactory code. We combined electrophysiological and computational modeling to explore the nature of the peripheral olfactory code in situ. We recorded firing responses of 19/21 OSNs to a panel of 19 odors. This was achieved by creating larvae expressing just one functioning class of odorant receptor, and hence OSN. Odor response profiles of each OSN class were highly specific and unique. However many OSN-odor pairs yielded variable responses, some of which were statistically indistinguishable from background activity. We used these electrophysiological data, incorporating both responses and spontaneous firing activity, to develop a Bayesian decoding model of olfactory processing. The model was able to accurately predict odor identity from raw OSN responses; prediction accuracy ranged from 12%–77% (mean for all odors 45.2%) but was always significantly above chance (5.6%). However, there was no correlation between prediction accuracy for a given odor and the strength of responses of wild-type larvae to the same odor in a behavioral assay. We also used the model to predict the ability of the code to discriminate between pairs of odors. Some of these predictions were supported in a behavioral discrimination (masking) assay but others were not. We conclude that our model of the peripheral code represents basic features of odor detection and discrimination, yielding insights into the information available to higher processing structures in the brain.
PMCID: PMC3153476  PMID: 21857978
5.  Drosophila Cuticular Hydrocarbons Revisited: Mating Status Alters Cuticular Profiles 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9607.
Most living organisms use pheromones for inter-individual communication. In Drosophila melanogaster flies, several pheromones perceived either by contact/at a short distance (cuticular hydrocarbons, CHs), or at a longer distance (cis-vaccenyl acetate, cVA), affect courtship and mating behaviours. However, it has not previously been possible to precisely identify all potential pheromonal compounds and simultaneously monitor their variation on a time scale. To overcome this limitation, we combined Solid Phase Micro-Extraction with gas-chromatography coupled with mass-spectrometry. This allowed us (i) to identify 59 cuticular compounds, including 17 new CHs; (ii) to precisely quantify the amount of each compound that could be detected by another fly, and (iii) to measure the variation of these substances as a function of aging and mating. Sex-specific variation appeared with age, while mating affected cuticular compounds in both sexes with three possible patterns: variation was (i) reciprocal in the two sexes, suggesting a passive mechanical transfer during mating, (ii) parallel in both sexes, such as for cVA which strikingly appeared during mating, or (iii) unilateral, presumably as a result of sexual interaction. We provide a complete reassessment of all Drosophila CHs and suggest that the chemical conversation between male and female flies is far more complex than is generally accepted. We conclude that focusing on individual compounds will not provide a satisfactory understanding of the evolution and function of chemical communication in Drosophila.
PMCID: PMC2834761  PMID: 20231905
6.  An Inhibitory Sex Pheromone Tastes Bitter for Drosophila Males 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(8):e661.
Sexual behavior requires animals to distinguish between the sexes and to respond appropriately to each of them. In Drosophila melanogaster, as in many insects, cuticular hydrocarbons are thought to be involved in sex recognition and in mating behavior, but there is no direct neuronal evidence of their pheromonal effect. Using behavioral and electrophysiological measures of responses to natural and synthetic compounds, we show that Z-7-tricosene, a Drosophila male cuticular hydrocarbon, acts as a sex pheromone and inhibits male-male courtship. These data provide the first direct demonstration that an insect cuticular hydrocarbon is detected as a sex pheromone. Intriguingly, we show that a particular type of gustatory neurons of the labial palps respond both to Z-7-tricosene and to bitter stimuli. Cross-adaptation between Z-7-tricosene and bitter stimuli further indicates that these two very different substances are processed by the same neural pathways. Furthermore, the two substances induced similar behavioral responses both in courtship and feeding tests. We conclude that the inhibitory pheromone tastes bitter to the fly.
PMCID: PMC1937024  PMID: 17710124
7.  Regulation of reproduction in a queenless ant: aggression, pheromones and reduction in conflict. 
In the monogynous queenless ant Diacamma ceylonense, the future reproductive (future gamergate) is very aggressive towards infertile workers during the first days of her adult life. Overt aggression disappears at about three weeks, when the future gamergate begins to lay male-destined eggs and is ready to mate. Over the same period, her cuticular hydrocarbon profile alters, changing from a chemical signature similar to that of a sterile worker towards that of a gamergate. In nature, these behavioural and chemical changes will coincide with a reduction in conflict within the nest: faced with a virgin future gamergate, infertile workers have an interest in producing male-destined eggs; however, once the gamergate produces female eggs, they have an interest in rearing her offspring. This demonstration of a shift from physical inhibition to chemical signalling is interpreted in terms of sociogenetic theory, the role of cuticular hydrocarbons as an indicator of fertility in insects and the fact that the regulation of reproduction in Diacamma involves mechanisms redolent of both queenless and queenright ant species.
PMCID: PMC1691022  PMID: 12065047

Results 1-7 (7)