Sex-specific triacylglycerides are widely conserved in Drosophila and mediate mating behavior

Elife. 2014 Mar 11;3:e01751. doi: 10.7554/eLife.01751.


Pheromones play an important role in the behavior, ecology, and evolution of many organisms. The structure of many insect pheromones typically consists of a hydrocarbon backbone, occasionally modified with various functional oxygen groups. Here we show that sex-specific triacylclyerides (TAGs) are broadly conserved across the subgenus Drosophila in 11 species and represent a novel class of pheromones that has been largely overlooked. In desert-adapted drosophilids, 13 different TAGs are secreted exclusively by males from the ejaculatory bulb, transferred to females during mating, and function synergistically to inhibit courtship from other males. Sex-specific TAGs are comprised of at least one short branched tiglic acid and a long linear fatty acyl component, an unusual structural motif that has not been reported before in other natural products. The diversification of chemical cues used by desert-adapted Drosophila as pheromones may be related to their specialized diet of fermenting cacti.

Keywords: D. arizonae; D. mojavensis; behavior; laser desorption ionzation; mass spectrometry; ozone-induced dissociation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Crotonates / chemistry*
  • Crotonates / metabolism
  • Desert Climate
  • Drosophila melanogaster / chemistry
  • Drosophila melanogaster / classification
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hemiterpenes
  • Male
  • Molecular Structure
  • Pheromones / biosynthesis
  • Pheromones / chemistry*
  • Phylogeny
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Triglycerides / biosynthesis
  • Triglycerides / chemistry*


  • Crotonates
  • Hemiterpenes
  • Pheromones
  • Triglycerides
  • tiglic acid

Grant support

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.