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.
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