Background: Female sexual receptivity offers an excellent model for complex behavioral decisions. The female must parse her own reproductive state, the external environment, and male sensory cues to decide whether to copulate. In the fly Drosophila melanogaster, virgin female receptivity has received relatively little attention, and its neural circuitry and individual behavioral components remain unmapped. Using a genome-wide neuronal RNAi screen, we identify a subpopulation of neurons responsible for pausing, a novel behavioral aspect of virgin female receptivity characterized in this study.
Results: We show that Abdominal-B (Abd-B), a homeobox transcription factor, is required in developing neurons for high levels of virgin female receptivity. Silencing adult Abd-B neurons significantly decreased receptivity. We characterize two components of receptivity that are elicited in sexually mature females by male courtship: pausing and vaginal plate opening. Silencing Abd-B neurons decreased pausing but did not affect vaginal plate opening, demonstrating that these two components of female sexual behavior are functionally separable. Synthetic activation of Abd-B neurons increased pausing, but male courtship song alone was not sufficient to elicit this behavior.
Conclusions: Our results provide an entry point to the neural circuit controlling virgin female receptivity. The female integrates multiple sensory cues from the male to execute discrete motor programs prior to copulation. Abd-B neurons control pausing, a key aspect of female sexual receptivity, in response to male courtship.
Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.