It’s easy to appreciate the diversity of animal behaviors across the lot, yet how species differences in behavior evolve in the first place is one of the big mysteries in biology and neuroscience today. What sorts of changes does the animal brain undergo when a new behavior emerges during evolution, or when an old behavior is modified or lost? And which genes and developmental processes implement those changes?
With Jim Truman and David Stern at Janelia, I’m attempting to answer these questions using the “songs” that male fruit flies in genus Drosophila sing to females during courtship. Males of each Drosophila species have evolved their own unique courtship song. By cracking the neural circuits that compose the male song, we’d like to understand how the fly’s nervous system changed when songs evolved between different Drosophila species. Eventually, we hope to learn generalities about the paths that nervous systems take when innate behaviors transform during evolution.
Prior Publications (5)
A wide range of organisms use sex pheromones to communicate with each other and to identify appropriate mating partners. While the evolution of chemical communication has been suggested to cause sexual isolation and speciation, the mechanisms that govern evolutionary transitions in sex pheromone production are poorly understood. Here, we decipher the molecular mechanisms underlying the rapid evolution in the expression of a gene involved in sex pheromone production in Drosophilid flies. Long-chain cuticular hydrocarbons (e.g., dienes) are produced female-specifically, notably via the activity of the desaturase DESAT-F, and are potent pheromones for male courtship behavior in Drosophila melanogaster. We show that across the genus Drosophila, the expression of this enzyme is correlated with long-chain diene production and has undergone an extraordinary number of evolutionary transitions, including six independent gene inactivations, three losses of expression without gene loss, and two transitions in sex-specificity. Furthermore, we show that evolutionary transitions from monomorphism to dimorphism (and its reversion) in desatF expression involved the gain (and the inactivation) of a binding-site for the sex-determination transcription factor, DOUBLESEX. In addition, we documented a surprising example of the gain of particular cis-regulatory motifs of the desatF locus via a set of small deletions. Together, our results suggest that frequent changes in the expression of pheromone-producing enzymes underlie evolutionary transitions in chemical communication, and reflect changing regimes of sexual selection, which may have contributed to speciation among Drosophila.
Sexual behavior in Drosophila results from interactions of multiple neural and genetic pathways. Male-specific fruitless (fruM) is a major component inducing male behaviors, but recent work indicates key roles for other sex-specific and sex-non-specific components. Notably, male-like courtship by retained (retn) mutant females reveals an intrinsic pathway for male behavior independent of fruM, while behavioral differences between males and females with equal levels of fruM expression indicate involvement of another sex-specific component. Indeed, sex-specific products of doublesex (dsxF and dsxM), that control sexual differentiation of the body, also contribute to sexual behavior and neural development of both sexes. In addition, the single product of the dissatisfaction (dsf) gene is needed for appropriate behavior in both sexes, implying additional complexities and levels of control. The genetic mechanisms controlling sexual behavior are similar to those controlling body sexual development, suggesting biological advantages of modifying an intermediate intrinsic pathway in generation of two substantially different behavioral or morphological states.
Current models describe male-specific fruitless (fruM) as a genetic 'switch' regulating sexual behavior in Drosophila melanogaster, and they postulate that female (F) and male (M) doublesex (dsx) products control body sexual morphology. In contradiction to this simple model, we show that dsx, as well as fruM and non-sex-specific retained (retn), affect both male and female sexual behaviors. In females, both retn and dsxF contribute to female receptivity, and both genes act to repress male-like courtship activity in the presence or absence of fruM. In males, consistent with the opposing functions of dsxM and dsxF, dsxM acts as a positive factor for male courtship. retn also acts counter to fruM in the development of the male-specific muscle of Lawrence. Molecularly, retn seems to regulate sexual behavior via a previously described complex that represses zerknullt. Thus, we show that fru and dsx together act as a 'switch' system regulating behavior in the context of other developmental genes, such as retn.
Drosophila retained/dead ringer is necessary for neuronal pathfinding, female receptivity and repression of fruitless independent male courtship behaviors.Development (Cambridge, England) 2005
L. M. Ditch, T. Shirangi, J. L. Pitman, K. L. Latham, K. D. Finley, P. T. Edeen, B. J. Taylor, and M. McKeown Development (Cambridge, England), 132:155-64 (2005)
Mutations in the Drosophila retained/dead ringer (retn) gene lead to female behavioral defects and alter a limited set of neurons in the CNS. retn is implicated as a major repressor of male courtship behavior in the absence of the fruitless (fru) male protein. retn females show fru-independent male-like courtship of males and females, and are highly resistant to courtship by males. Males mutant for retn court with normal parameters, although feminization of retn cells in males induces bisexuality. Alternatively spliced RNAs appear in the larval and pupal CNS, but none shows sex specificity. Post-embryonically, retn RNAs are expressed in a limited set of neurons in the CNS and eyes. Neural defects of retn mutant cells include mushroom body beta-lobe fusion and pathfinding errors by photoreceptor and subesophageal neurons. We posit that some of these retn-expressing cells function to repress a male behavioral pathway activated by fruM.
Nuclear degradation of p53 occurs during down-regulation of the p53 response after DNA damage.The FASEB Journal: Official Publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology 2002
T. R. Shirangi, A. Zaika, and U. M. Moll The FASEB Journal: Official Publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 16:420-2 (2002)
The principal regulator of p53 stability is HDM2, an E3 ligase that mediates p53 degradation via the ubiquitin-26S proteasome pathway. The current model holds that p53 degradation occurs exclusively on cytoplasmic proteasomes and hence has an absolute requirement for nuclear export of p53 via the CRM-1 pathway. However, proteasomes are abundant in both cytosol and nucleus, and no studies have been done to determine under what physiological circumstances p53 degradation might occur in the nucleus. We analyzed HDM2-mediated degradation of endogenous p53 in the presence of various nuclear export inhibitors of CRM-1, including leptomycin B (LMB), a noncompetitive, specific, and fast-acting inhibitor; and HTLV1-Rex protein, a potent competitive inhibitor. We found that significant HDM2-mediated p53 degradation took place in the presence of LMB or HTLV1-Rex, indicating that endogenous p53 degradation occurs locally in the nucleus, in parallel to cytoplasmic degradation. Moreover, p53 null cells that coexpressed export-defective mutants of p53 and HDM2 retained partial competence for p53 degradation. It is important that nuclear degradation of p53 occurred during the poststress recovery phase of a p53 response, after DNA damage ceased. We propose that the capability of local p53 degradation within the nucleus provides a tighter and faster control during the down-regulatory phase, when an active p53 program needs to be turned off quickly.