Activation of Latent Courtship Circuitry in the Brain of Drosophila Females Induces Male-like Behaviors

Carolina Rezaval, Siddharth Pattnaik, Hania J. Pavlou, Tetsuya Nojima, Birgit Brüggemeier, Luis A. D. D’Souza, Hany K. M. Dweck, Stephen F Goodwin

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27 Citations (Scopus)
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Courtship in Drosophila melanogaster offers a powerful experimental paradigm for the study of innate sexually dimorphic behaviors [1, 2]. Fruit fly males exhibit an elaborate courtship display toward a potential mate [1, 2]. Females never actively court males, but their response to the male's display determines whether mating will actually occur. Sex-specific behaviors are hardwired into the nervous system via the actions of the sex determination genes doublesex (dsx) and fruitless (fru) [1]. Activation of male-specific dsx/fru(+) P1 neurons in the brain initiates the male's courtship display [3, 4], suggesting that neurons unique to males trigger this sex-specific behavior. In females, dsx(+) neurons play a pivotal role in sexual receptivity and post-mating behaviors [1, 2, 5-9]. Yet it is still unclear how dsx(+) neurons and dimorphisms in these circuits give rise to the different behaviors displayed by males and females. Here, we manipulated the function of dsx(+) neurons in the female brain to investigate higher-order neurons that drive female behaviors. Surprisingly, we found that activation of female dsx(+) neurons in the brain induces females to behave like males by promoting male-typical courtship behaviors. Activated females display courtship toward conspecific males or females, as well other Drosophila species. We uncovered specific dsx(+) neurons critical for driving male courtship and identified pheromones that trigger such behaviors in activated females. While male courtship behavior was thought to arise from male-specific central neurons, our study shows that the female brain is equipped with latent courtship circuitry capable of inducing this male-specific behavioral program.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2508-2515
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number18
Early online date25 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2016

Bibliographical note

Paper commented on Archer R. Brain wiring explains sex differences in Drosophila behaviour. Journal of Experimental Biology 2016 219: 3675 doi: 10.1242/jeb.130369.

Movie promoting this research 'The Fe-male Brain'


  • neurobiology
  • behaviour
  • neural circuits
  • Drosophila
  • reproductive behaviours
  • brain sex differences


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