Nav: Home

Female flies respond to sensation of sex, not just sperm

May 06, 2019

Female fruit flies can feel when a sexual partner is a good fit.

Scientists have long known that proteins in a male fly's ejaculate make female flies temporarily lose interest in other partners. It's a trick male flies use to raise the chance that eggs get fertilized with their sperm, not someone else's. But a new study suggests that the sensation of sex - regardless of sperm - can also make females reject other partners, researchers report May 6, 2019, in the journal Neuron.

It could be a quick way a female fly determines whether she should keep trying to mate or whether she can take a break, says study coauthor Ulrike Heberlein, a senior fellow at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus. When a female fly has uninterrupted sex, a pair of neurons exclusive to females carry the "stop mating" messages from sensory neurons in the abdomen up to the brain, the team found.

The phenomenon, dubbed the "copulation effect" might be especially important in the wild, where matings can be interrupted, says coauthor Lisha Shao, a research scientist in Heberlein's lab at Janelia. A mechanism for a female fly to quickly detect that she has successfully mated could be a boon.

The finding was "a bit of an accident," Heberlein says. She and Shao had initially been hunting for neurons involved in reward circuitry. They'd noticed that certain cells in female flies sent very strong reward messages to the brain when stimulated. But those cells didn't even exist in males.

The cells must have some sex-specific role, the researchers suspected. In one experiment, they paired female fruit flies with males that couldn't ejaculate. After mating, females lost interest in other males -- even though they hadn't received any sperm. But when Shao and Heberlein blocked the neurons' activity, the female flies kept trying to mate. These cells seem to control a new way female flies determine they've successfully had sex, independent of the so-called "sperm effect."

The sperm effect can kill females' interest in mating for up to a week, but it takes a while to set in, Shao says. This new mechanism appears much more quickly, though it fades faster.

Now, the researchers are figuring out exactly how reward fits in ¬- their original goal. Male flies find mating rewarding only when they ejaculate, past research has shown, but females are more of a mystery, says Heberlein. "The next step is to understand whether sex is rewarding to females."

Lisha Shao, Phuong Chung, Allan Wong, Igor Siwanowicz, Clement F. Kent, Xi Long, and Ulrike Heberlein. "A neural circuit encoding the experience of copulation in female Drosophila." Neuron. Published online May 6, 2019.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Related Neurons Articles:

How do we get so many different types of neurons in our brain?
SMU (Southern Methodist University) researchers have discovered another layer of complexity in gene expression, which could help explain how we're able to have so many billions of neurons in our brain.
These neurons affect how much you do, or don't, want to eat
University of Arizona researchers have identified a network of neurons that coordinate with other brain regions to influence eating behaviors.
Mood neurons mature during adolescence
Researchers have discovered a mysterious group of neurons in the amygdala -- a key center for emotional processing in the brain -- that stay in an immature, prenatal developmental state throughout childhood.
Astrocytes protect neurons from toxic buildup
Neurons off-load toxic by-products to astrocytes, which process and recycle them.
Connecting neurons in the brain
Leuven researchers uncover new mechanisms of brain development that determine when, where and how strongly distinct brain cells interconnect.
The salt-craving neurons
Pass the potato chips, please! New research discovers neural circuits that regulate craving and satiation for salty tastes.
When neurons are out of shape, antidepressants may not work
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medication for major depressive disorder (MDD), yet scientists still do not understand why the treatment does not work in nearly thirty percent of patients with MDD.
Losing neurons can sometimes not be that bad
Current thinking about Alzheimer's disease is that neuronal cell death in the brain is to blame for the cognitive havoc caused by the disease.
Neurons that fire together, don't always wire together
As the adage goes 'neurons that fire together, wire together,' but a new paper published today in Neuron demonstrates that, in addition to response similarity, projection target also constrains local connectivity.
Scientists accidentally reprogram mature mouse GABA neurons into dopaminergic-like neurons
Attempting to make dopamine-producing neurons out of glial cells in mouse brains, a group of researchers instead converted mature inhibitory neurons into dopaminergic cells.
More Neurons News and Neurons Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at