Animals ubiquitously use chemical signals to communicate many aspects of their social life. These chemical signals often consist of environmental cues mixed with species-specific signals—pheromones—emitted by conspecifics. During their life, insects can use pheromones to aggregate, disperse, choose a mate, or find the most suitable food source on which to lay eggs. Before pupariation, larvae of several Drosophila species migrate to food sources depending on their composition and the presence of pheromones. Some pheromones derive from microbiota gut activity and these food-associated cues can enhance larval attraction or repulsion. To explore the mechanisms underlying the preference (attraction/repulsion) to these cues and clarify their effect, we manipulated factors potentially involved in larval response. In particular, we found that the (i) early exposure to conspecifics, (ii) genotype, and (iii) antibiotic treatment changed D. melanogaster larval behavior. Generally, larvae—tested either individually or in groups—strongly avoided food processed by other larvae. Compared to previous reports on larval attractive pheromones, our data suggest that such attractive effects are largely masked by food-associated compounds eliciting larval aversion. The antagonistic effect of attractive vs. aversive compounds could modulate larval choice of a pupariation site and impact the dispersion of individuals in nature.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are essential nutrients for animals and necessary for the normal functioning of the nervous system. A lack of PUFAs can result from the consumption of a deficient diet or genetic factors, which impact PUFA uptake and metabolism. Both can cause synaptic dysfunction, which is associated with numerous disorders. However, there is a knowledge gap linking these neuronal dysfunctions and their underlying molecular mechanisms. Because of its genetic manipulability and its easy, fast, and cheap breeding, Drosophila melanogaster has emerged as an excellent model organism for genetic screens, helping to identify the genetic bases of such events. As a first step towards the understanding of PUFA implications in Drosophila synaptic physiology we designed a breeding medium containing only very low amounts of PUFAs. We then used the fly’s visual system, a well-established model for studying signal transmission and neurological disorders, to measure the effects of a PUFA deficiency on synaptic function. Using both visual performance and eye electrophysiology, we found that PUFA deficiency strongly affected synaptic transmission in the fly’s visual system. These defects were rescued by diets containing omega-3 or omega-6 PUFAs alone or in combination. In summary, manipulating PUFA contents in the fly’s diet was powerful to investigate the role of these nutrients on the fly´s visual synaptic function. This study aims at showing how the first visual synapse of Drosophila can serve as a simple model to study the effects of PUFAs on synapse function. A similar approach could be further used to screen for genetic factors underlying the molecular mechanisms of synaptic dysfunctions associated with altered PUFA levels.
Insects use chemosensory cues to feed and mate. In Drosophila, the effect of pheromones has been extensively investigated in adults, but rarely in larvae. The colonization of natural food sources by Drosophila buzzatii and Drosophila simulans species may depend on species-specific chemical cues left in the food by larvae and adults. We identified such chemicals in both species and measured their influence on larval food preference and puparation behaviour. We also tested compounds that varied between these species: (i) two larval volatile compounds: hydroxy-3-butanone-2 and phenol (predominant in D. simulans and D. buzzatii, respectively), and (ii) adult cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs). Drosophila buzzatii larvae were rapidly attracted to non-CH adult conspecific cues, whereas D. simulans larvae were strongly repulsed by CHs of the two species and also by phenol. Larval cues from both species generally reduced larval attraction and pupariation on food, which was generally—but not always—low, and rarely reflected larval response. As these larval and adult pheromones specifically influence larval food search and the choice of a pupariation site, they may greatly affect the dispersion and survival of Drosophila species in nature.
group-effect; acetoin; fatty acid; diet; olfaction; taste
Caffeine (1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine), an alkaloid produced by plants, has antioxidant and insecticide properties that can affect metabolism and cognition. In vertebrates, the metabolites derived from caffeine have been identified, and their functions have been characterized. However, the metabolites of caffeine in insects remain unknown. Thus, using radiolabelled caffeine, we have identified some of the primary caffeine metabolites produced in the body of Drosophila melanogaster males, including theobromine, paraxanthine and theophylline. In contrast to mammals, theobromine was the predominant metabolite (paraxanthine in humans; theophylline in monkeys; 1, 3, 7-trimethyluric acid in rodents). A transcriptomic screen of Drosophila flies exposed to caffeine revealed the coordinated variation of a large set of genes that encode xenobiotic-metabolizing proteins, including several cytochromes P450s (CYPs) that were highly overexpressed. Flies treated with metyrapone—an inhibitor of CYP enzymes—showed dramatically decreased caffeine metabolism, indicating that CYPs are involved in this process. Using interference RNA genetic silencing, we measured the metabolic and transcriptomic effect of three candidate CYPs. Silencing of CYP6d5 completely abolished theobromine synthesis, whereas CYP6a8 and CYP12d1 silencing induced different consequences on metabolism and gene expression. Therefore, we characterized several metabolic products and some enzymes potentially involved in the degradation of caffeine. In conclusion, this pioneer approach to caffeine metabolism in insects opens novel perspectives for the investigation of the physiological effects of caffeine metabolites. It also indicates that caffeine could be used as a biomarker to evaluate CYP phenotypes in Drosophila and other insects.
Food and host-preference relies on genetic adaptation and sensory experience. In vertebrates, experience with food-related cues during early development can change adult preference. This is also true in holometabolous insects, which undergo a drastic nervous system remodelling during their complete metamorphosis, but remains uncertain in Drosophila melanogaster. We have conditioned D. melanogaster with oleic (C18∶1) and stearic (C18∶0) acids, two common dietary fatty acids, respectively preferred by larvae and adult. Wild-type individuals exposed either during a transient period of development–from embryo to adult–or more permanently–during one to ten generation cycles–were affected by such conditioning. In particular, the oviposition preference of females exposed to each fatty acid during larval development was affected without cross-effect indicating the specificity of each substance. Permanent exposure to each fatty acid also drastically changed oviposition preference as well as major fitness traits (development duration, sex-ratio, fecundity, adult lethality). This suggests that D. melanogaster ability to adapt to new food sources is determined by its genetic and sensory plasticity both of which may explain the success of this generalist-diet species.
Food choice and preference relies on multiple sensory systems that are under the control of genes and sensory experience. Exposure to specific nutrients and nutrient-related molecules can change food preference in vertebrates and invertebrates. For example, larval exposure of several holometabolous insects to menthol can change their adult response to this molecule. However, studies involving Drosophila melanogaster exposure to menthol produced controversial results due maybe to methodological differences. Here, we compared the oviposition-site preference of wild-type D. melanogaster lines freely or forcibly exposed to menthol-rich food. After 12 generations, oviposition-site preference diverged between the two lines. Counterintuitively, menthol ‘forced’ lines showed a persistent aversion to menthol whereas ‘free choice’ lines exhibited a decreased aversion to menthol-rich food. This effect was specific to menthol since the ‘free choice’ lines showed unaltered responses to caffeine and sucrose. This suggests that the genetic factors underlying Drosophila oviposition site preference are more rapidly influenced when flies have a choice between alternative sources compared to flies permanently exposed to the same aversive substance.
Egg-laying behaviour; Aversive behaviour; Menthol; Caffeine; Sucrose
Recognition of conspecifics and mates is based on a variety of sensory cues that are specific to the species, sex and social status of each individual. The courtship and mating activity of Drosophila melanogaster flies is thought to depend on the olfactory perception of a male-specific volatile pheromone, cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), and the gustatory perception of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs), some of which are sexually dimorphic. Using two complementary sampling methods (headspace Solid Phase Micro-Extraction [SPME] and solvent extraction) coupled with GC-MS analysis, we measured the dispersion of pheromonal CHs in the air and on the substrate around the fly. We also followed the variations in CHs that were induced by social and sexual interactions. We found that all CHs present on the fly body were deposited as a thin layer on the substrate, whereas only a few of these molecules were also detected in the air. Moreover, social experience during early adult development and in mature flies strongly affected male volatile CHs but not cVA, whereas sexual interaction only had a moderate influence on dispersed CHs. Our study suggests that, in addition to their role as contact cues, CHs can influence fly behavior at a distance and that volatile, deposited and body pheromonal CHs participate in a three-step recognition of the chemical identity and social status of insects.
Mate choice is based on the comparison of the sensory quality of potential mating partners, and sex pheromones play an important role in this process. In Drosophila melanogaster, contact pheromones differ between male and female in their content and in their effects on male courtship, both inhibitory and stimulatory. To investigate the genetic basis of sex pheromone discrimination, we experimentally selected males showing either a higher or lower ability to discriminate sex pheromones over 20 generations. This experimental selection was carried out in parallel on two different genetic backgrounds: wild-type and desat1 mutant, in which parental males showed high and low sex pheromone discrimination ability respectively. Male perception of male and female pheromones was separately affected during the process of selection. A comparison of transcriptomic activity between high and low discrimination lines revealed genes not only that varied according to the starting genetic background, but varied reciprocally. Mutants in two of these genes, Shaker and quick-to-court, were capable of producing similar effects on discrimination on their own, in some instances mimicking the selected lines, in others not. This suggests that discrimination of sex pheromones depends on genes whose activity is sensitive to genetic context and provides a rare, genetically defined example of the phenomenon known as “allele flips,” in which interactions have reciprocal effects on different genetic backgrounds.
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.
Fatty-acids (FAs) are required in the diet of many animals throughout their life. However, the mechanisms involved in the perception of and preferences for dietary saturated and unsaturated FAs (SFAs and UFAs, respectively) remain poorly explored, especially in insects. Using the model species Drosophila melanogaster, we measured the responses of wild-type larvae and adults to pure SFAs (14, 16, and 18 carbons) and UFAs (C18 with 1, 2, or 3 double-bonds). Individual and group behavioral tests revealed different preferences in larvae and adults. Larvae preferred UFAs whereas SFAs tended to induce both a strong aversion and a persistent aggregation behavior. Adults generally preferred SFAs, and laid more eggs and had a longer life span when ingesting these substances as compared to UFAs. Our data suggest that insects can discriminate long-chain dietary FAs. The developmental change in preference shown by this species might reflect functional variation in use of FAs or stage-specific nutritional requirements, and may be fundamental for insect use of these major dietary components.
Pheromonal communication is crucial with regard to mate choice in many animals including insects. Drosophila melanogaster flies produce a pheromonal bouquet with many cuticular hydrocarbons some of which diverge between the sexes and differently affect male courtship behavior. Cuticular pheromones have a relatively high weight and are thought to be — mostly but not only — detected by gustatory contact. However, the response of the peripheral and central gustatory systems to these substances remains poorly explored. We measured the effect induced by pheromonal cuticular mixtures on (i) the electrophysiological response of peripheral gustatory receptor neurons, (ii) the calcium variation in brain centers receiving these gustatory inputs and (iii) the behavioral reaction induced in control males and in mutant desat1 males, which show abnormal pheromone production and perception. While male and female pheromones induced inhibitory-like effects on taste receptor neurons, the contact of male pheromones on male fore-tarsi elicits a long-lasting response of higher intensity in the dedicated gustatory brain center. We found that the behavior of control males was more strongly inhibited by male pheromones than by female pheromones, but this difference disappeared in anosmic males. Mutant desat1 males showed an increased sensitivity of their peripheral gustatory neurons to contact pheromones and a behavioral incapacity to discriminate sex pheromones. Together our data indicate that cuticular hydrocarbons induce long-lasting inhibitory effects on the relevant taste pathway which may interact with the olfactory pathway to modulate pheromonal perception.
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.
Dopamine is an important neuromodulator in animals and its roles in mammalian sexual behavior are extensively studied. Drosophila as a useful model system is widely used in many fields of biological studies. It has been reported that dopamine reduction can affect female receptivity in Drosophila and leave male-female courtship behavior unaffected. Here, we used genetic and pharmacological approaches to decrease the dopamine level in dopaminergic cells in Drosophila, and investigated the consequence of this manipulation on male homosexual courtship behavior. We find that reduction of dopamine level can induce Drosophila male-male courtship behavior, and that this behavior is mainly due to the increased male attractiveness or decreased aversiveness towards other males, but not to their enhanced propensity to court other males. Chemical signal input probably plays a crucial role in the male-male courtship induced by the courtees with reduction of dopamine. Our finding provides insight into the relationship between the dopamine reduction and male-male courtship behavior, and hints dopamine level is important for controlling Drosophila courtship behavior.
Mate choice is an evolutionarily critical decision that requires the detection of multiple sex-specific signals followed by central integration of these signals to direct appropriate behavior. The mechanisms controlling mate choice remain poorly understood. Here, we show that the glial amino-acid transporter genderblind controls whether Drosophila melanogaster males will attempt to mate with other males. Genderblind (gb) mutant males showed no alteration in heterosexual courtship or copulation, but were attracted to normally unappealing male species-specific chemosensory cues. As a result, genderblind mutant males courted and attempted to copulate with other Drosophila males. This homosexual behavior could be induced within hours using inducible RNAi, suggesting that genderblind controls nervous system function rather than its development. Consistent with this, and indicating that glial genderblind regulates ambient extracellular glutamate to suppress glutamatergic synapse strength in vivo, homosexual behavior could be turned on and off by altering glutamatergic transmission pharmacologically and/or genetically.
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.
Sex pheromones are chemical signals frequently required for mate choice, but their reciprocal role on mate preference has rarely been shown in both sexes. In Drosophila melanogaster flies, the predominant cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs) are sexually dimorphic: only females produce 7,11-dienes, whereas 7-tricosene (7-T) is the principal male CH. Males generally prefer females with 7,11-dienes, but the role of 7-T on female behaviour remains unclear. With perfumed males, control females mated faster and more often with males carrying increased levels of 7-T showing that this CH acts as a chemical stimulant for D. melanogaster females. Control females—but not antenna-less females—could detect small variation of 7-T. Finally, our finding that desat1 mutant female showed altered response towards 7-T provides an additional role for this gene which affects the production and the perception of pheromones involved in mate choice, in both sexes.
male pheromone; 7-tricosene; female receptivity; antenna; desat1; Drosophila
The evolution of communication is a fundamental biological problem. The genetic control of the signal and its reception must be tightly coadapted, especially in inter-individual sexual communication. However, there is very little experimental evidence for tight genetic linkage connecting the emission of a signal and its reception. We found that a single genomic transposon inserted in the desat1 gene of Drosophila melanogaster simultaneously affected the emission and the perception of sex-specific signals. This mutation greatly decreased the production of unsaturated hydrocarbons on the cuticle of mature flies of both sexes. These substances represent the sex pheromones necessary for mate discrimination: control males could not discriminate the sex of mutant desat1 flies. Moreover, mutant males were unable to discriminate the sex pheromones of control flies. Expression of desat1 was found in the peripheral tissues that produce and detect sex pheromones. Excision of the transposon rescued both the production and discrimination phenotypes, but the two effects did not always coincide. This indicates that the emission and perception of pheromones are coded by different products of the same gene, reflecting the pleiotropic activity of desat1.
pheromonal communication; mate discrimination; desaturase; Drosophila; PGal4