Quantitative analysis of sex-pheromone coding in the antennal lobe of the moth Agrotis ipsilon: a tool to study network plasticity

J Exp Biol. 2009 Apr;212(Pt 8):1191-201. doi: 10.1242/jeb.024166.


To find a mating partner, moths rely on pheromone communication. Released in very low amounts, female sex pheromones are used by males to identify and localize females. Depending on the physiological state (i.e. age, reproductive state), the olfactory system of the males of the noctuid moth Agrotis ipsilon is 'switched on or off'. To understand the neural basis of this behavioural plasticity, we performed a detailed characterization of the qualitative, quantitative and temporal aspects of pheromone coding in the primary centre of integration of pheromonal information, the macroglomerular complex (MGC) of the antennal lobe. MGC neurons were intracellularly recorded and stained in sexually mature virgin males. When stimulating antennae of males with the three main components of the female pheromone blend, most of the neurons showed a biphasic excitatory-inhibitory response. Although they showed different preferences, 80% of the neurons responded at least to the main pheromone component (Z-7-dodecenyl acetate). Six stained neurons responding to this component had their dendrites in the largest MGC glomerulus. Changes in the stimulus intensity and duration affected the excitatory phase but not the inhibitory phase properties. The stimulus intensity was shown to be encoded in the firing frequency, the number of spikes and the latency of the excitatory phase, whereas the stimulus duration only changed its duration. We conclude that the inhibitory input provided by local interneurons following the excitatory phase might not contribute directly to the encoding of stimulus characteristics. The data presented will serve as a basis for comparison with those of immature and mated males.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Male
  • Moths / drug effects
  • Moths / growth & development
  • Moths / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Perception
  • Sex Attractants / pharmacology
  • Sex Attractants / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*
  • Smell
  • Stimulation, Chemical


  • Sex Attractants