Layered roles of fruitless isoforms in specification and function of male aggression-promoting neurons in Drosophila

Elife. 2020 Apr 21:9:e52702. doi: 10.7554/eLife.52702.


Inter-male aggressive behavior is a prominent sexually dimorphic behavior. Neural circuits that underlie aggressive behavior are therefore likely under the control of sex-determining genes. However, the neurogenetic mechanism that generates sex-specific aggressive behavior remains largely unknown. Here, we found that a neuronal class specified by one of the Drosophila sex determining genes, fruitless (fru), belongs to the neural circuit that generates male-type aggressive behavior. This neuronal class can promote aggressive behavior independent of another sex determining gene, doublesex (dsx), although dsx is involved in ensuring that aggressive behavior is performed only toward males. We also found that three fru isoforms with different DNA binding domains show a division of labor on male aggressive behaviors. A dominant role of fru in specifying sex-specific aggressive behavior may underscore a genetic mechanism that allows male-type aggressive behavior to evolve at least partially independently from courtship behavior, which is under different selective pressures.

Keywords: D. melanogaster; aggression; courtship; doublesex; fruitless; genetics; genomics; neuroscience; sexual dimorphism; social behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Drosophila / physiology*
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Transcription Factors
  • fru protein, Drosophila