Transcriptional and epigenetic responses to mating and aging in Drosophila melanogaster

BMC Genomics. 2014 Oct 23;15(1):927. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-15-927.


Background: Phenotypic plasticity allows organisms to respond rapidly to changing environmental circumstances, and understanding its genomic basis can yield insights regarding the underlying genes and genetic networks affecting complex phenotypes. Female Drosophila melanogaster undergo dramatic physiological changes mediated by seminal fluid components transferred upon mating, including decreased longevity. Their physiological and behavioral effects have been well characterized, but little is known about resulting changes in regulation of gene expression or the extent to which mating-induced changes in gene expression are the same as those occurring during aging.

Results: We assessed genome-wide mRNA, microRNA, and three common histone modifications implicated in gene activation for young and aged virgin and mated female D. melanogaster in a factorial design. We identified phenotypically plastic transcripts and epigenetic modifications associated with mating and aging. We used these data to derive phenotypically plastic regulatory networks associated with mating of young flies, and aging of virgin and mated flies. Many of the mRNAs, microRNAs and epigenetic modifications associated with mating of young flies also occur with age in virgin flies, which may reflect mating-induced accelerated aging. We functionally tested the plastic regulatory networks by overexpressing environmentally sensitive microRNAs. Overexpression resulted in altered expression of ~70% of candidate target genes, and in all cases affected oviposition.

Conclusions: Our results implicate microRNAs as mediators of phenotypic plasticity associated with mating and provide a comprehensive documentation of the genomic and epigenomic changes that accompany mating- and aging-induced physiological changes in female D. melanogaster.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • Oviposition / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Reproduction / genetics
  • Transcription, Genetic / physiology*


  • Histones
  • MicroRNAs