Pheromonally transmitted signals are well known to be important for triggering mating behaviors in the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster, and they influence such behaviors in other organisms as well, including mammals. Kent et al. explore the role of such signaling in a fly’s response to its social context and show that pheromonal chemical signaling appears to be intimately dependent on the social background of the individual. Fly mating pheromones are hydrocarbons secreted at sites known as oenocytes on the abdomen. To monitor the effects of social interactions, the authors extracted pheromones from male flies that were kept in a homogeneous group or flies from a group containing a mix of genotypes. They further quantitated, with various methods, the impact of genotype, social grouping, and light cycle on the variability in expression of various pheromones. For some pheromones, social group accounted for the majority of the variation in expression. The authors point out that their experimental design should allow the study of the cellular and molecular circuitry that allows a fly to know its own type and to alter its pheromone production in response to social situations that include flies of the same or heterogeneous genotypes. Ritchie discusses the work and a related paper on circadian influences on pheromone signals (oenocytes appear to have their own peripheral clock) that shows flies mate more frequently in mixed, rather than homogeneous, groups.
C. Kent, R Azanchi, B. Smith, A. Formosa, J. D. Levine, Social context influences chemical communication in D. melanogaster males. Curr. Biol. 18, 1384-1389 (2008). [PubMed]
M. G. Ritchie, Behavioural genetics: The social fly. Curr. Biol. 18, R862-R864 (2008). [PubMed]
J. J. Krupp, C. Kent, J.-C. Billeter, R. Azanchi, A. K.-C. So, J. A. Schonfeld, B. P. Smith, C. Lucas, J. D. Levine, Social experience modifies pheromone expression and mating behavior in male Drosophila melanogaster. Curr. Biol. 18, 1373-1383 (2008). [PubMed]