Living in a social environment requires the ability to respond to specific social stimuli and to incorporate information obtained from prior interactions into future ones. One of the mechanisms that facilitates social interaction is pheromone-based communication. In Drosophila melanogaster, the male-specific pheromone cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA) elicits different responses in male and female flies, and functions to modulate behavior in a context and experience-dependent manner. Although it is the most studied pheromone in flies, the mechanisms that determine the complexity of the response, its intensity and final output with respect to social context, sex and prior interaction, are still not well understood. Here we explored the functional link between social interaction and pheromone-based communication and discovered an odorant binding protein that links social interaction to sex specific changes in cVA related responses. Odorant binding protein 69a (Obp69a) is expressed in auxiliary cells and secreted into the olfactory sensilla. Its expression is inversely regulated in male and female flies by social interactions: cVA exposure reduces its levels in male flies and increases its levels in female flies. Increasing or decreasing Obp69a levels by genetic means establishes a functional link between Obp69a levels and the extent of male aggression and female receptivity. We show that activation of cVA-sensing neurons is sufficeint to regulate Obp69a levels in the absence of cVA, and requires active neurotransmission between the sensory neuron to the second order olfactory neuron. The cross-talk between sensory neurons and non-neuronal auxiliary cells at the olfactory sensilla, represents an additional component in the machinery that promotes behavioral plasticity to the same sensory stimuli in male and female flies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas