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Cuticular Hydrocarbon Pheromones for Social Behavior and Their Coding in the Ant Antenna

Description

The sophisticated organization of eusocial insect societies is largely based on the regulation of complex behaviors by hydrocarbon pheromones present on the cuticle. We used electrophysiology to investigate the detection

The sophisticated organization of eusocial insect societies is largely based on the regulation of complex behaviors by hydrocarbon pheromones present on the cuticle. We used electrophysiology to investigate the detection of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) by female-specific olfactory sensilla basiconica on the antenna of Camponotus floridanus ants through the utilization of one of the largest family of odorant receptors characterized so far in insects. These sensilla, each of which contains multiple olfactory receptor neurons, are differentially sensitive to CHCs and allow them to be classified into three broad groups that collectively detect every hydrocarbon tested, including queen and worker-enriched CHCs. This broad-spectrum sensitivity is conserved in a related species, Camponotus laevigatus, allowing these ants to detect CHCs from both nestmates and non-nestmates. Behavioral assays demonstrate that these ants are excellent at discriminating CHCs detected by the antenna, including enantiomers of a candidate queen pheromone that regulates the reproductive division of labor.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2015-08-13

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Phylogenetic and Transcriptomic Analysis of Chemosensory Receptors in a Pair of Divergent Ant Species Reveals Sex-Specific Signatures of Odor Coding

Description

Ants are a highly successful family of insects that thrive in a variety of habitats across the world. Perhaps their best-known features are complex social organization and strict division of

Ants are a highly successful family of insects that thrive in a variety of habitats across the world. Perhaps their best-known features are complex social organization and strict division of labor, separating reproduction from the day-to-day maintenance and care of the colony, as well as strict discrimination against foreign individuals. Since these social characteristics in ants are thought to be mediated by semiochemicals, a thorough analysis of these signals, and the receptors that detect them, is critical in revealing mechanisms that lead to stereotypic behaviors. To address these questions, we have defined and characterized the major chemoreceptor families in a pair of behaviorally and evolutionarily distinct ant species, Camponotus floridanus and Harpegnathos saltator. Through comprehensive re-annotation, we show that these ant species harbor some of the largest yet known repertoires of odorant receptors (Ors) among insects, as well as a more modest number of gustatory receptors (Grs) and variant ionotropic glutamate receptors (Irs). Our phylogenetic analyses further demonstrate remarkably rapid gains and losses of ant Ors, while Grs and Irs have also experienced birth-and-death evolution to different degrees. In addition, comparisons of antennal transcriptomes between sexes identify many chemoreceptors that are differentially expressed between males and females and between species. We have also revealed an agonist for a worker-enriched OR from C. floridanus, representing the first case of a heterologously characterized ant tuning Or. Collectively, our analysis reveals a large number of ant chemoreceptors exhibiting patterns of differential expression and evolution consistent with sex/species-specific functions. These differentially expressed genes are likely associated with sex-based differences, as well as the radically different social lifestyles observed between C. floridanus and H. saltator, and thus are targets for further functional characterization. Our findings represent an important advance toward understanding the molecular basis of social interactions and the differential chemical ecologies among ant species.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2012-08-30

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Chemosensory sensitivity reflects reproductive status in the ant Harpegnathos saltator

Description

Insects communicate with pheromones using sensitive antennal sensilla. Although trace amounts of pheromones can be detected by many insects, context-dependent increased costs of high sensitivity might lead to plasticity in

Insects communicate with pheromones using sensitive antennal sensilla. Although trace amounts of pheromones can be detected by many insects, context-dependent increased costs of high sensitivity might lead to plasticity in sensillum responsiveness. We have functionally characterized basiconic sensilla of the ant Harpegnathos saltator for responses to general odors in comparison to cuticular hydrocarbons which can act as fertility signals emitted by the principal reproductive(s) of a colony to inhibit reproduction by worker colony members. When released from inhibition workers may become reproductive gamergates. We observed plasticity in olfactory sensitivity after transition to reproductive status with significant reductions in electrophysiological responses to several long-chained cuticular hydrocarbons. Although gamergates lived on average five times longer than non-reproductive workers, the shift to reproductive status rather than age differences matched the pattern of changes in olfactory sensitivity. Decreasing sensillum responsiveness to cuticular hydrocarbons could potentially reduce mutually inhibitory or self-inhibitory effects on gamergate reproduction.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2017-06-16

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Specialized odorant receptors in social insects that detect cuticular hydrocarbon cues and candidate pheromones

Description

Eusocial insects use cuticular hydrocarbons as components of pheromones that mediate social behaviours, such as caste and nestmate recognition, and regulation of reproduction. In ants such as Harpegnathos saltator, the

Eusocial insects use cuticular hydrocarbons as components of pheromones that mediate social behaviours, such as caste and nestmate recognition, and regulation of reproduction. In ants such as Harpegnathos saltator, the queen produces a pheromone which suppresses the development of workers’ ovaries and if she is removed, workers can transition to a reproductive state known as gamergate. Here we functionally characterize a subfamily of odorant receptors (Ors) with a nine-exon gene structure that have undergone a massive expansion in ants and other eusocial insects. We deorphanize 22 representative members and find they can detect cuticular hydrocarbons from different ant castes, with one (HsOr263) that responds strongly to gamergate extract and a candidate queen pheromone component. After systematic testing with a diverse panel of hydrocarbons, we find that most Harpegnathos saltator Ors are narrowly tuned, suggesting that several receptors must contribute to detection and discrimination of different cuticular hydrocarbons important in mediating eusocial behaviour.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2017-08-17