The Drosophila pheromone cVA activates a sexually dimorphic neural circuit

Nature. 2008 Mar 27;452(7186):473-7. doi: 10.1038/nature06808. Epub 2008 Feb 27.


Courtship is an innate sexually dimorphic behaviour that can be observed in naive animals without previous learning or experience, suggesting that the neural circuits that mediate this behaviour are developmentally programmed. In Drosophila, courtship involves a complex yet stereotyped array of dimorphic behaviours that are regulated by Fru(M), a male-specific isoform of the fruitless gene. Fru(M) is expressed in about 2,000 neurons in the fly brain, including three subpopulations of olfactory sensory neurons and projection neurons (PNs). One set of Fru(+) olfactory neurons expresses the odorant receptor Or67d and responds to the male-specific pheromone cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA). These neurons converge on the DA1 glomerulus in the antennal lobe. In males, activation of Or67d(+) neurons by cVA inhibits courtship of other males, whereas in females their activation promotes receptivity to other males. These observations pose the question of how a single pheromone acting through the same set of sensory neurons can elicit different behaviours in male and female flies. Anatomical or functional dimorphisms in this neural circuit might be responsible for the dimorphic behaviour. We therefore developed a neural tracing procedure that employs two-photon laser scanning microscopy to activate the photoactivatable green fluorescent protein. Here we show, using this technique, that the projections from the DA1 glomerulus to the protocerebrum are sexually dimorphic. We observe a male-specific axonal arbor in the lateral horn whose elaboration requires the expression of the transcription factor Fru(M) in DA1 projection neurons and other Fru(+) cells. The observation that cVA activates a sexually dimorphic circuit in the protocerebrum suggests a mechanism by which a single pheromone can elicit different behaviours in males and in females.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetates / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Courtship
  • Drosophila / cytology
  • Drosophila / drug effects*
  • Drosophila / physiology*
  • Drosophila Proteins / deficiency
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Male
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / deficiency
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Oleic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Pheromones / pharmacology*
  • Protein Isoforms / genetics
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Smell / drug effects
  • Smell / physiology
  • Transcription Factors / deficiency
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Acetates
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Oleic Acids
  • Pheromones
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Transcription Factors
  • cis-vaccenyl acetate
  • fru protein, Drosophila