Sensation in a single neuron pair represses male behavior in hermaphrodites

Neuron. 2012 Aug 23;75(4):593-600. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.03.044.


Pheromones elicit innate sex-specific mating behaviors in many species. We demonstrate that in C. elegans, male-specific sexual attraction behavior is programmed in both sexes but repressed in hermaphrodites. Repression requires a single sensory neuron pair, the ASIs. To repress attraction in adults, the ASIs must be present, active, and capable of sensing the environment during development. The ASIs release TGF-β, and ASI function can be bypassed by experimental activation of TGF-β signaling. Sexual attraction in derepressed hermaphrodites requires the same sensory neurons as in males. The sexual identity of both these sensory neurons and a distinct subset of interneurons must be male to relieve repression and release attraction. TGF-β may therefore act to change connections between sensory neurons and interneurons during development to engage repression. Thus, sensation in a single sensory neuron pair during development reprograms a common neural circuit from male to female behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Culture Media, Conditioned / pharmacology
  • Disorders of Sex Development / genetics
  • Disorders of Sex Development / pathology*
  • Disorders of Sex Development / physiopathology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Laser Therapy / methods
  • Male
  • Pheromones / pharmacology
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / classification
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / drug effects
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / genetics
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • DAF-7 protein, C elegans
  • Pheromones
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta