The genetic underpinnings that contribute to variation in olfactory perception are not fully understood. To explore the genetic basis of variation in olfactory perception, we measured behavioral responses to 14 chemically diverse naturally occurring odorants in 260400 flies from 186 lines of the Drosophila melanogaster Genetic Reference Panel, a population of inbred wild-derived lines with sequenced genomes. We observed variation in olfactory behavior for all odorants. Low to moderate broad-sense heritabilities and the large number of tests for genotype-olfactory phenotype association performed precluded any individual variant from reaching formal significance. However, the top variants (nominal P < 5×10(-5)) were highly enriched for genes involved in nervous system development and function, as expected for a behavioral trait. Further, pathway enrichment analyses showed that genes tagged by the top variants included components of networks centered on cyclic guanosine monophosphate and inositol triphosphate signaling, growth factor signaling, Rho signaling, axon guidance, and regulation of neural connectivity. Functional validation with RNAi and mutations showed that 15 out of 17 genes tested indeed affect olfactory behavior. Our results show that in addition to chemoreceptors, variation in olfactory perception depends on polymorphisms that can result in subtle variations in synaptic connectivity within the nervous system.
Keywords: Drosophila melanogaster Genetic Reference Panel; behavioral genetics; genetic networks; genome-wide association analysis; olfactory behavior.
© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press.