By genetically manipulating both pheromonal profiles and behavioral patterns, we find that Drosophila males showed a complete reversal in their patterns of aggression towards other males and females
Appropriate displays of aggression rely on the ability to recognize potential competitors. As in most species, Drosophila males fight with other males and do not attack females. In insects, sex recognition is strongly dependent on chemosensory communication, mediated by cuticular hydrocarbons acting as pheromones. While the roles of chemical and other sensory cues in stimulating male to female courtship have been well characterized in Drosophila, the signals that elicit aggression remain unclear. Here we show that when female pheromones or behavior are masculinized, males recognize females as competitors and switch from courtship to aggression. To masculinize female pheromones, a transgene carrying dsRNA for the sex determination factor transformer (traIR) was targeted to the pheromone producing cells, the oenocytes. Shortly after copulation males attacked these females, indicating that pheromonal cues can override other sensory cues. Surprisingly, masculinization of female behavior by targeting traIR to the nervous system in an otherwise normal female also was sufficient to trigger male aggression. Simultaneous masculinization of both pheromones and behavior induced a complete switch in the normal male response to a female. Control males now fought rather than copulated with these females. In a reciprocal experiment, feminization of the oenocytes and nervous system in males by expression of transformer (traF) elicited high levels of courtship and little or no aggression from control males. Finally, when confronted with flies devoid of pheromones, control males attacked male but not female opponents, suggesting that aggression is not a default behavior in the absence of pheromonal cues. Thus, our results show that masculinization of either pheromones or behavior in females is sufficient to trigger male-to-female aggression. Moreover, by manipulating both the pheromonal profile and the fighting patterns displayed by the opponent, male behavioral responses towards males and females can be completely reversed. Therefore, both pheromonal and behavioral cues are used by Drosophila males in recognizing a conspecific as a competitor.
As in other species, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster uses chemical signals in the form of pheromones to recognize the species and sex of another individual. Males typically fight with other males and do not attack females. While the roles of pheromonal and other sensory cues in stimulating courtship towards females have been extensively studied, the signals that elicit aggression towards other males remain unclear. In this work, we use genetic tools to show that masculinization of female pheromones is sufficient to trigger aggression from wild type males towards females. Surprisingly, males also attacked females that displayed male patterns of aggression, even if they show normal female pheromonal profiles, indicating that pheromones are not the only cues important for identifying another animal as an opponent. By simultaneously manipulating pheromones and behavioral patterns of opponents, we can completely switch the behavioral response of males towards females and males. These results demonstrate that not only pheromonal but also behavioral cues can serve as triggers of aggression, underlining the importance of behavioral feedback in the manifestation of social behaviors.