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Candidate pheromone receptors provide the basis for the response of distinct antennal neurons to pheromonal compounds


Dr J. Krieger, as above.


Males of the moth species Heliothis virescens are able to detect the female-released pheromone with remarkable sensitivity and specificity, distinguishing between highly related pheromonal compounds. In the past, electrophysiological studies succeeded in assigning sensory hairs to identified compounds revealing three functional types of long sensilla trichodea housing neurons specifically responding to distinct semiochemicals. The specific responsiveness implies that the sensory neurons express different receptor types tuned to pheromone components. In this study we demonstrate that heterologously expressed candidate pheromone receptors from Heliothis responded to several pheromonal compounds, including the major sex-pheromone component Z-11-hexadecenal indicating a limited specificity of each receptor type. Nonetheless, based on functional analysis and in situ hybridization studies the analysed receptor types could tentatively be assigned to types of long sensilla trichodea, containing the pheromone-binding proteins (PBPs) HvirPBP1 and HvirPBP2 in the sensillum lymph. Substituting organic solvent with PBPs to solubilize the hydrophobic pheromone compounds in functional assays revealed an increase in sensitivity and especially specificity. It was found that in the presence of HvirPBP2, cells expressing the receptor type HR13 specifically responded to the main component of the sex pheromone blend only. The data provide further evidence that a combination of a distinct receptor type and binding protein underlie the specific response observed in the detection of a pheromone component in vivo.