Letter

Nature 463, 227-231 (14 January 2010) | doi:10.1038/nature08678; Received 31 August 2009; Accepted 18 November 2009; Published online 6 December 2009; Corrected 14 January 2010

Identification of an aggression-promoting pheromone and its receptor neurons in Drosophila

Liming Wang1 & David J. Anderson1,2

  1. Division of Biology 216-76,
  2. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, California Institute of Technology, 1200 East California Boulevard, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

Correspondence to: Liming Wang1David J. Anderson1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to D.J.A. (Email: wuwei@caltech.edu) or L.W. (Email: lmwang@caltech.edu).

Aggression is regulated by pheromones in many animal species1, 2, 3. However, in no system have aggression pheromones, their cognate receptors and corresponding sensory neurons been identified. Here we show that 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), a male-specific volatile pheromone, robustly promotes male–male aggression in the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster. The aggression-promoting effect of synthetic cVA requires olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) expressing the receptor Or67d4, 5, 6, as well as the receptor itself. Activation of Or67d-expressing OSNs, either by genetic manipulation of their excitability or by exposure to male pheromones in the absence of other classes of OSNs, is sufficient to promote aggression. High densities of male flies can promote aggression by the release of volatile cVA. In turn, cVA-promoted aggression can promote male fly dispersal from a food resource, in a manner dependent on Or67d-expressing OSNs. These data indicate that cVA may mediate negative-feedback control of male population density, through its effect on aggression. Identification of a pheromone–OSN pair controlling aggression in a genetic organism opens the way to unravelling the neurobiology of this evolutionarily conserved behaviour.

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