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Neural circuit in fruit flies detects anti-aphrodisiac

"Potentially, we could devise a way to manipulate Tachykinin in pest populations to control reproduction," said researcher Joanne Yew.

By Brooks Hays
A common fruit fly (Drosophila Melanogaster). Photo by Studiotouch/Shutterstock
A common fruit fly (Drosophila Melanogaster). Photo by Studiotouch/Shutterstock

MANOA, Hawaii, July 7 (UPI) -- Animals don't just taste flavors; they also taste pheromones, behavior-influencing biochemicals.

Fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) possess pheromone taste receptors on their legs, sensing secretions that potentially affect mating and other social behaviors.

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Researchers weren't entirely sure how these sensed pheromones were processed in the brain. But new research by scientists at the University of Hawaii at Manoa details the neural circuit responsible for processing an anti-aphrodisiac pheromone called CH503.

The pheromone, produced by male fruit flies, is transferred to females during mating. It's meant to repel other potential male mates.

To study the pheromone and its effects, researchers manipulated a group of fruit flies' genetic code in order to turn off different taste receptors on their legs. By watching the flies reproductive behavior, the scientists were able to identify which receptors detected CH503.

"Normally, males are repulsed by females that have been perfumed with the pheromone. However, when activity in Gr68a neurons is turned off, males will actively try to mate with females perfumed with the pheromone," researcher Joanne Yew explained in a press release.

Next, researchers repeated the process with the flies' neural cells.

Yew and her research partners were able to isolate two groups of communication cells key in detecting and processing the pheromone. The neuron cells produced a chemical called Tachykinin.

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"This work identifies a molecular signal, Tachykinin, that controls the perception of taste pheromones and provides an anatomical map of where this information is processed in the brain," said Yew. "By understanding the cellular basis of how taste information is encoded, we will be able to study how sensory signals shape programmed behaviors and influence complex social decisions such as the choice to mate. Potentially, we could devise a way to manipulate Tachykinin in pest populations to control reproduction."

The new research was published in the journal eLife.

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