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1.  Drosophila Bitter Taste(s) 
Most animals possess taste receptors neurons detecting potentially noxious compounds. In humans, the ligands which activate these neurons define a sensory space called “bitter”. By extension, this term has been used in animals and insects to define molecules which induce aversive responses. In this review, based on our observations carried out in Drosophila, we examine how bitter compounds are detected and if bitter-sensitive neurons respond only to molecules bitter to humans. Like most animals, flies detect bitter chemicals through a specific population of taste neurons, distinct from those responding to sugars or to other modalities. Activating bitter-sensitive taste neurons induces aversive reactions and inhibits feeding. Bitter molecules also contribute to the suppression of sugar-neuron responses and can lead to a complete inhibition of the responses to sugar at the periphery. Since some bitter molecules activate bitter-sensitive neurons and some inhibit sugar detection, bitter molecules are represented by two sensory spaces which are only partially congruent. In addition to molecules which impact feeding, we recently discovered that the activation of bitter-sensitive neurons also induces grooming. Bitter-sensitive neurons of the wings and of the legs can sense chemicals from the gram negative bacteria, Escherichia coli, thus adding another biological function to these receptors. Bitter-sensitive neurons of the proboscis also respond to the inhibitory pheromone, 7-tricosene. Activating these neurons by bitter molecules in the context of sexual encounter inhibits courting and sexual reproduction, while activating these neurons with 7-tricosene in a feeding context will inhibit feeding. The picture that emerges from these observations is that the taste system is composed of detectors which monitor different “categories” of ligands, which facilitate or inhibit behaviors depending on the context (feeding, sexual reproduction, hygienic behavior), thus considerably extending the initial definition of “bitter” tasting.
PMCID: PMC4658422  PMID: 26635553
taste; insects; aversive; pheromones; electrophysiology; behavior
2.  Hygienic grooming is induced by contact chemicals in Drosophila melanogaster 
In social insects, grooming is considered as a behavioral defense against pathogen and parasite infections since it contributes to remove microbes from their cuticle. However, stimuli which trigger this behavior are not well characterized yet. We examined if activating contact chemoreceptive sensilla could trigger grooming activities in Drosophila melanogaster. We monitored the grooming responses of decapitated flies to compounds known to activate the immune system, e.g., dead Escherichia coli (Ec) and lipopolysaccharides (LPS), and to tastants such as quinine, sucrose, and salt. LPS, quinine, and Ec were quite effective in triggering grooming movements when touching the distal border of the wings and the legs, while sucrose had no effect. Contact chemoreceptors are necessary and sufficient to elicit such responses, as grooming could not be elicited by LPS in poxn mutants deprived of external taste sensilla, and as grooming was elicited by light when a channel rhodopsin receptor was expressed in bitter-sensitive cells expressing Gr33a. Contact chemoreceptors distributed along the distal border of the wings respond to these tastants by an increased spiking activity, in response to quinine, Ec, LPS, sucrose, and KCl. These results demonstrate for the first time that bacterial compounds trigger grooming activities in D. melanogaster, and indicate that contact chemoreceptors located on the wings participate in the detection of such chemicals.
PMCID: PMC4107972  PMID: 25100963
Escherichia coli; LPS; contact chemoreceptors; wing margin; grooming behavior
3.  Gαo Is Required for L-Canavanine Detection in Drosophila 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63484.
Taste is an essential sense for the survival of most organisms. In insects, taste is particularly important as it allows to detect and avoid ingesting many plant toxins, such as L-canavanine. We previously showed that L-canavanine is toxic for Drosophila melanogaster and that flies are able to detect this toxin in the food. L-canavanine is a ligand of DmXR, a variant G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) belonging to the metabotropic glutamate receptor subfamily that is expressed in bitter-sensitive taste neurons of Drosophila. To transduce the signal intracellularly, GPCR activate heterotrimeric G proteins constituted of α, β and γ subunits. The aim of this study was to identify which Gα protein was required for L-canavanine detection in Drosophila. By using a pharmacological approach, we first demonstrated that DmXR has the best coupling with Gαo protein subtype. Then, by using genetic, behavioral assays and electrophysiology, we found that Gαo47A is required in bitter-sensitive taste neurons for L-canavanine sensitivity. In conclusion, our study revealed that Gαo47A plays a crucial role in L-canavanine detection.
PMCID: PMC3646046  PMID: 23671680
4.  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.
PMCID: PMC3311575  PMID: 22457821
6.  Peripheral, Central and Behavioral Responses to the Cuticular Pheromone Bouquet in Drosophila melanogaster Males 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19770.
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.
PMCID: PMC3098836  PMID: 21625481
7.  Parallel Reinforcement Pathways for Conditioned Food Aversions in the Honeybee 
Current Biology  2010;20(24):2234-2240.
Avoiding toxins in food is as important as obtaining nutrition. Conditioned food aversions have been studied in animals as diverse as nematodes and humans [1, 2], but the neural signaling mechanisms underlying this form of learning have been difficult to pinpoint. Honeybees quickly learn to associate floral cues with food [3], a trait that makes them an excellent model organism for studying the neural mechanisms of learning and memory. Here we show that honeybees not only detect toxins but can also learn to associate odors with both the taste of toxins and the postingestive consequences of consuming them. We found that two distinct monoaminergic pathways mediate learned food aversions in the honeybee. As for other insect species conditioned with salt or electric shock reinforcers [4–7], learned avoidances of odors paired with bad-tasting toxins are mediated by dopamine. Our experiments are the first to identify a second, postingestive pathway for learned olfactory aversions that involves serotonin. This second pathway may represent an ancient mechanism for food aversion learning conserved across animal lineages.
► Learned food avoidances arise from two independent reinforcement pathways ► Detection of toxins requires the responses of multiple gustatory neurons ► Learned avoidance of odors associated with aversive taste involves dopamine ► Learned avoidance of odors associated with toxin ingestion involves serotonin
PMCID: PMC3011020  PMID: 21129969
8.  Hedonic Taste in Drosophila Revealed by Olfactory Receptors Expressed in Taste Neurons 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(7):e2610.
Taste and olfaction are each tuned to a unique set of chemicals in the outside world, and their corresponding sensory spaces are mapped in different areas in the brain. This dichotomy matches categories of receptors detecting molecules either in the gaseous or in the liquid phase in terrestrial animals. However, in Drosophila olfactory and gustatory neurons express receptors which belong to the same family of 7-transmembrane domain proteins. Striking overlaps exist in their sequence structure and in their expression pattern, suggesting that there might be some functional commonalities between them. In this work, we tested the assumption that Drosophila olfactory receptor proteins are compatible with taste neurons by ectopically expressing an olfactory receptor (OR22a and OR83b) for which ligands are known. Using electrophysiological recordings, we show that the transformed taste neurons are excited by odor ligands as by their cognate tastants. The wiring of these neurons to the brain seems unchanged and no additional connections to the antennal lobe were detected. The odor ligands detected by the olfactory receptor acquire a new hedonic value, inducing appetitive or aversive behaviors depending on the categories of taste neurons in which they are expressed i.e. sugar- or bitter-sensing cells expressing either Gr5a or Gr66a receptors. Taste neurons expressing ectopic olfactory receptors can sense odors at close range either in the aerial phase or by contact, in a lipophilic phase. The responses of the transformed taste neurons to the odorant are similar to those obtained with tastants. The hedonic value attributed to tastants is directly linked to the taste neurons in which their receptors are expressed.
PMCID: PMC2440521  PMID: 18612414
9.  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

Results 1-9 (9)