About 2 percent of the cells in the nervous system express the male-specific form of fru and these neurons are required for nearly all aspects of male sexual behavior, from the initial recognition of a potential mate, through copulation, and ejaculation. Furthermore, the expression of the fru gene in these neurons is not only necessary, but also sufficient for nearly all aspects of courtship behavior.
We believe the key to understanding this complex innate behavior is to take the neurons expressing fru as a starting point for a bidirectional approach. Thus, one facet of our work is focused onhow fru directs the development, morphogenesis, and differentiation of these neurons to build the circuitry for a complex behavior. The second facet of our work is directed at understanding how the neurons in the courtship circuitry function together in the adult to ensure the ordered manifestation of the individual steps of the courtship ritual.
Bruce Baker Group Leader
Dion Luo Research Staff
Geoffrey Meissner Postdoctoral Associate
Shelby Montague Postdoctoral Associate
Yufeng Pan Visiting Scientist
Carmen Robinett Research Staff
Chuan Zhou Postdoctoral Associate
We show that a small subset of two to six subesophageal neurons, expressing the male products of the male courtship master regulator gene products fruitlessMale (fruM), are required in the early stages of the Drosophila melanogaster male courtship behavioral program. Loss of fruM expression or inhibition of synaptic transmission in these fruM(+) neurons results in delayed courtship initiation and a failure to progress to copulation primarily under visually-deficient conditions. We identify a fruM-dependent sexually dimorphic arborization in the tritocerebrum made by two of these neurons. Furthermore, these SOG neurons extend descending projections to the thorax and abdominal ganglia. These anatomical and functional characteristics place these neurons in the position to integrate gustatory and higher-order signals in order to properly initiate and progress through early courtship.
Drosophila melanogaster females respond to male courtship by either rejecting the male or allowing copulation. The neural mechanisms underlying these female behaviors likely involve the integration of sensory information in the brain. Because doublesex (dsx) controls other aspects of female differentiation, we asked whether dsx-expressing neurons mediate virgin female receptivity to courting males. Using intersectional techniques to manipulate the activities of defined subsets of dsx-expressing neurons, we found that activation of neurons in either the pCd or pC1 clusters promotes receptivity, while silencing these neurons makes females unreceptive. Furthermore, pCd and pC1 neurons physiologically respond to the male-specific pheromone cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), while pC1 neurons also respond to male courtship song. The pCd and pC1 neurons expressing dsx in females do not express transcripts from the fruitless (fru) P1 promoter. Thus, virgin female receptivity is controlled at least in part by neurons that are distinct from those governing male courtship.
Wild-type D. melanogaster males innately possess the ability to perform a multistep courtship ritual to conspecific females. The potential for this behavior is specified by the male-specific products of the fruitless (fru(M)) gene; males without fru(M) do not court females when held in isolation. We show that such fru(M) null males acquire the potential for courtship when grouped with other flies; they apparently learn to court flies with which they were grouped, irrespective of sex or species and retain this behavior for at least a week. The male-specific product of the doublesex gene (dsx(M)) is necessary and sufficient for the acquisition of the potential for such experience-dependent courtship. These results reveal a process that builds, via dsx(M) and social experience, the potential for a more flexible sexual behavior, which could be evolutionarily conserved as dsx-related genes that function in sexual development are found throughout the animal kingdom.
BACKGROUND: During courtship, male Drosophila melanogaster sing a multipart courtship song to female flies. This song is of particular interest because (1) it is species specific and varies widely within the genus, (2) it is a gating stimulus for females, who are sensitive detectors of conspecific song, and (3) it is the only sexual signal that is under both neural and genetic control. This song is perceived via mechanosensory neurons in the antennal Johnston's organ, which innervate the antennal mechanosensory and motor center (AMMC) of the brain. However, AMMC outputs that are responsible for detection and discrimination of conspecific courtship song remain unknown. RESULTS: Using a large-scale anatomical screen of AMMC interneurons, we identify seven projection neurons (aPNs) and five local interneurons (aLNs) that outline a complex architecture for the ascending mechanosensory pathway. Neuronal inactivation and hyperactivation during behavior reveal that only two classes of interneurons are necessary for song responses-the projection neuron aPN1 and GABAergic interneuron aLN(al). These neurons are necessary in both male and female flies. Physiological recordings in aPN1 reveal the integration of courtship song as a function of pulse rate and outline an intracellular transfer function that likely facilitates the response to conspecific song. CONCLUSIONS: These results reveal a critical pathway for courtship hearing in male and female flies, in which both aLN(al) and aPN1 mediate the detection of conspecific song. The pathways arising from these neurons likely serve as a critical neural substrate for behavioral reproductive isolation in D. melanogaster.
Genetically hard-wired neural mechanisms must enforce behavioral reproductive isolation because interspecies courtship is rare even in sexually naïve animals of most species. We find that the chemoreceptor Gr32a inhibits male D. melanogaster from courting diverse fruit fly species. Gr32a recognizes nonvolatile aversive cues present on these reproductively dead-end targets, and activity of Gr32a neurons is necessary and sufficient to inhibit interspecies courtship. Male-specific Fruitless (Fru(M)), a master regulator of courtship, also inhibits interspecies courtship. Gr32a and Fru(M) are not coexpressed, but Fru(M) neurons contact Gr32a neurons, suggesting that these genes influence a shared neural circuit that inhibits interspecies courtship. Gr32a and Fru(M) also suppress within-species intermale courtship, but we show that distinct mechanisms preclude sexual displays toward conspecific males and other species. Although this chemosensory pathway does not inhibit interspecies mating in D. melanogaster females, similar mechanisms appear to inhibit this behavior in many other male drosophilids.
BACKGROUND: Drosophila melanogaster adult males perform an elaborate courtship ritual to entice females to mate. fruitless (fru), a gene that is one of the key regulators of male courtship behavior, encodes multiple male-specific isoforms (Fru(M)). These isoforms vary in their carboxy-terminal zinc finger domains, which are predicted to facilitate DNA binding. RESULTS: By over-expressing individual Fru(M) isoforms in fru-expressing neurons in either males or females and assaying the global transcriptional response by RNA-sequencing, we show that three Fru(M) isoforms have different regulatory activities that depend on the sex of the fly. We identified several sets of genes regulated downstream of Fru(M) isoforms, including many annotated with neuronal functions. By determining the binding sites of individual Fru(M) isoforms using SELEX we demonstrate that the distinct zinc finger domain of each Fru(M) isoforms confers different DNA binding specificities. A genome-wide search for these binding site sequences finds that the gene sets identified as induced by over-expression of Fru(M) isoforms in males are enriched for genes that contain the binding sites. An analysis of the chromosomal distribution of genes downstream of Fru(M) shows that those that are induced and repressed in males are highly enriched and depleted on the X chromosome, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: This study elucidates the different regulatory and DNA binding activities of three Fru(M) isoforms on a genome-wide scale and identifies genes regulated by these isoforms. These results add to our understanding of sex chromosome biology and further support the hypothesis that in some cell-types genes with male-biased expression are enriched on the X chromosome.
Somatic sexual dimorphisms outside of the nervous system in Drosophila melanogaster are largely controlled by the male- and female-specific Doublesex transcription factors (DSX(M) and DSX(F), respectively). The DSX proteins must act at the right times and places in development to regulate the diverse array of genes that sculpt male and female characteristics across a variety of tissues. To explore how cellular and developmental contexts integrate with doublesex (dsx) gene function, we focused on the sexually dimorphic number of gustatory sense organs (GSOs) in the foreleg. We show that DSX(M) and DSX(F) promote and repress GSO formation, respectively, and that their relative contribution to this dimorphism varies along the proximodistal axis of the foreleg. Our results suggest that the DSX proteins impact specification of the gustatory sensory organ precursors (SOPs). DSX(F) then acts later in the foreleg to regulate gustatory receptor neuron axon guidance. These results suggest that the foreleg provides a unique opportunity for examining the context-dependent functions of DSX.
Joint control of Drosophila male courtship behavior by motion cues and activation of male-specific P1 neurons.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2012
Y. Pan, G. W. Meissner, and B. S. Baker Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, (2012)
Sexual behaviors in animals are governed by inputs from multiple external sensory modalities. However, how these inputs are integrated to jointly control animal behavior is still poorly understood. Whereas visual information alone is not sufficient to induce courtship behavior in Drosophila melanogaster males, when a subset of male-specific fruitless (fru)- and doublesex (dsx)-expressing neurons that respond to chemosensory cues (P1 neurons) were artificially activated via a temperature-sensitive cation channel (dTRPA1), males followed and extended their wing toward moving objects (even a moving piece of rubber band) intensively. When stationary, these objects were not courted. Our results indicate that motion input and activation of P1 neurons are individually necessary, and under our assay conditions, jointly sufficient to elicit early courtship behaviors, and provide insights into how courtship decisions are made via sensory integration.
Uncovering the direct regulatory targets of doublesex (dsx) and fruitless (fru) is crucial for an understanding of how they regulate sexual development, morphogenesis, differentiation and adult functions (including behavior) in Drosophila melanogaster. Using a modified DamID approach, we identified 650 DSX-binding regions in the genome from which we then extracted an optimal palindromic 13 bp DSX-binding sequence. This sequence is functional in vivo, and the base identity at each position is important for DSX binding in vitro. In addition, this sequence is enriched in the genomes of D. melanogaster (58 copies versus approximately the three expected from random) and in the 11 other sequenced Drosophila species, as well as in some other Dipterans. Twenty-three genes are associated with both an in vivo peak in DSX binding and an optimal DSX-binding sequence, and thus are almost certainly direct DSX targets. The association of these 23 genes with optimum DSX binding sites was used to examine the evolutionary changes occurring in DSX and its targets in insects.
The male-specific Fruitless proteins (Fru(M)) act to establish the potential for male courtship behavior in Drosophila melanogaster and are expressed in small groups of neurons throughout the nervous system. We screened ~1000 GAL4 lines, using assays for general courtship, male-male interactions, and male fertility to determine the phenotypes resulting from the GAL4 driven inhibition of Fru(M) expression in subsets of these neurons. A battery of secondary assays showed that the phenotypic classes of GAL4 lines could be divided into subgroups based on additional neurobiological and behavioral criteria. For example, in some lines restoration of Fru(M) expression in cholinergic neurons restores fertility or reduces male-male courtship. Persistent chains of males courting each other in some lines results from males courting both sexes indiscriminately whereas in other lines this phenotype result from apparent habituation deficits. Inhibition of ectopic Fru(M) expression in females, in populations of neurons where Fru(M) is necessary for male fertility, can rescue female infertility. To identify the neurons responsible for some of the observed behavioral alterations, we determined the overlap between the identified GAL4 lines and endogenous Fru(M) expression in lines with fertility defects. The GAL4 lines causing fertility defects generally had widespread overlap with Fru(M) expression in many regions of the nervous system suggesting likely redundant Fru(M)-expressing neuronal pathways capable of conferring male fertility. From associations between the screened behaviors, we propose a functional model for courtship initiation.
The innate sexual behaviors of Drosophila melanogaster males are an attractive system for elucidating how complex behavior patterns are generated. The potential for male sexual behavior in D. melanogaster is specified by the fruitless (fru) and doublesex (dsx) sex regulatory genes. We used the temperature-sensitive activator dTRPA1 to probe the roles of fru(M)- and dsx-expressing neurons in male courtship behaviors. Almost all steps of courtship, from courtship song to ejaculation, can be induced at very high levels through activation of either all fru(M) or all dsx neurons in solitary males. Detailed characterizations reveal different roles for fru(M) and dsx in male courtship. Surprisingly, the system for mate discrimination still works well when all dsx neurons are activated, but is impaired when all fru(M) neurons are activated. Most strikingly, we provide evidence for a fru(M)-independent courtship pathway that is primarily vision dependent.
The Drosophila melanogaster sex hierarchy controls sexual differentiation of somatic cells via the activities of the terminal genes in the hierarchy, doublesex (dsx) and fruitless (fru). We have targeted an insertion of GAL4 into the dsx gene, allowing us to visualize dsx-expressing cells in both sexes. Developmentally and as adults, we find that both XX and XY individuals are fine mosaics of cells and tissues that express dsx and/or fruitless (fru(M)), and hence have the potential to sexually differentiate, and those that don't. Evolutionary considerations suggest such a mosaic expression of sexuality is likely to be a property of other animal species having two sexes. These results have also led to a major revision of our view of how sex-specific functions are regulated by the sex hierarchy in flies. Rather than there being a single regulatory event that governs the activities of all downstream sex determination regulatory genes-turning on Sex lethal (Sxl) RNA splicing activity in females while leaving it turned off in males-there are, in addition, elaborate temporal and spatial transcriptional controls on the expression of the terminal regulatory genes, dsx and fru. Thus tissue-specific aspects of sexual development are jointly specified by post-transcriptional control by Sxl and by the transcriptional controls of dsx and fru expression.
Although nervous system sexual dimorphisms are known in many species, relatively little is understood about the molecular mechanisms generating these dimorphisms. Recent findings in Drosophila provide the tools for dissecting how neurogenesis and neuronal differentiation are modulated by the Drosophila sex-determination regulatory genes to produce nervous system sexual dimorphisms. Here we report studies aimed at illuminating the basis of the sexual dimorphic axonal projection patterns of foreleg gustatory receptor neurons (GRNs): only in males do GRN axons project across the midline of the ventral nerve cord. We show that the sex determination genes fruitless (fru) and doublesex (dsx) both contribute to establishing this sexual dimorphism. Male-specific Fru (Fru(M)) acts in foreleg GRNs to promote midline crossing by their axons, whereas midline crossing is repressed in females by female-specific Dsx (Dsx(F)). In addition, midline crossing by these neurons might be promoted in males by male-specific Dsx (Dsx(M)). Finally, we (1) demonstrate that the roundabout (robo) paralogs also regulate midline crossing by these neurons, and (2) provide evidence that Fru(M) exerts its effect on midline crossing by directly or indirectly regulating Robo signaling.
Prior Publications (18)
Robust innate behaviours are attractive systems for genetically dissecting how environmental cues are perceived and integrated to generate complex behaviours. During courtship, Drosophila males engage in a series of innate, stereotyped behaviours that are coordinated by specific sensory cues. However, little is known about the specific neural substrates mediating this complex behavioural programme. Genetic, developmental and behavioural studies have shown that the fruitless (fru) gene encodes a set of male-specific transcription factors (FruM) that act to establish the potential for courtship in Drosophila. FruM proteins are expressed in approximately 2% of central nervous system neurons, at least one subset of which coordinates the component behaviours of courtship. Here we have inserted the yeast GAL4 gene into the fru locus by homologous recombination and show that (1) FruM is expressed in subsets of all peripheral sensory systems previously implicated in courtship, (2) inhibition of FruM function in olfactory system components reduces olfactory-dependent changes in courtship behaviour, (3) transient inactivation of all FruM-expressing neurons abolishes courtship behaviour, with no other gross changes in general behaviour, and (4) 'masculinization' of FruM-expressing neurons in females is largely sufficient to confer male courtship behaviour. Together, these data demonstrate that FruM proteins specify the neural substrates of male courtship.
It has been proposed that dosage compensation in Drosophila males occurs by binding of two core proteins, MSL-1 and MSL-2, to a set of 35-40 X chromosome "entry sites" that serve to nucleate mature complexes, termed compensasomes, which then spread to neighboring sequences to double expression of most X-linked genes. Here we show that any piece of the X chromosome with which compensasomes are associated in wild-type displays a normal pattern of compensasome binding when inserted into an autosome, independently of the presence of an entry site. Furthermore, in chromosomal rearrangements in which a piece of X chromosome is inserted into an autosome, or a piece of autosome is translocated to the X chromosome, we do not observe spreading of compensasomes to regions of autosomes that have been juxtaposed to X chromosomal material. Taken together these results suggest that spreading is not involved in dosage compensation and that nothing distinguishes an entry site from the other X chromosome sites occupied by compensasomes beyond their relative affinities for compensasomes. We propose a new model in which the distribution of compensasomes along the X chromosome is achieved according to the hierarchical affinities of individual binding sites.