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

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Abstract

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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Figure 1: Synthetic cVA promotes aggression.
Figure 2: Or67d-expressing OSNs mediate the aggression-promoting effect of synthetic cVA.
Figure 3: Or67d-expressing OSNs are sufficient to mediate the aggression-promoting effect of endogenously produced cVA.
Figure 4: cVA promotes aggression at high fly densities and dispersal of male flies from a food resource.

Change history

  • 14 January 2010

    The diameter in Fig. 4d was corrected from 50mm to 24mm on 14 January 2010.

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Acknowledgements

We thank B. Dickson, M. Heisenberg and L. Vosshall for providing fly stocks, R. Axel, C. Bargmann, J. Levine and L. Vosshall for comments on the manuscript and L. Zipursky for discussions. This work was supported in part by NSF grants EF-0623527 and MCB-0418479. D.J.A. is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Author Contributions L.W. carried out all the experiments and performed the data analysis. L.W. and D.J.A. together conceived the research and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Liming Wang or David J. Anderson.

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Wang, L., Anderson, D. Identification of an aggression-promoting pheromone and its receptor neurons in Drosophila. Nature 463, 227–231 (2010) doi:10.1038/nature08678

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