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Sexy DEG/ENaC Channels Involved in Gustatory Detection of Fruit Fly Pheromones

Hydrocarbon pheromones on the cuticle of Drosophila melanogaster modulate the complex courtship behavior of males. Recently, three members of the degenerin/epithelial Na+ channel (DEG/ENaC) family of sodium channel subunits, Ppk25, Ppk23, and Ppk29 (also known as Nope), have been shown to function in gustatory perception of courtship-modulating contact pheromones. All three proteins are required for the activation of male courtship by female pheromones. Specific interactions between two of them have been demonstrated in cultured cells, suggesting that, in a subset of cells where they are coexpressed, these three subunits function within a common heterotrimeric DEG/ENaC channel. Such a DEG/ENaC channel may be gated by pheromones, either directly or indirectly, or alternatively may control the excitability of pheromone-sensing cells. In addition, these studies identify taste neurons that respond specifically to courtship-modulating pheromones and mediate their effects on male behavior. Two types of pheromone-sensing taste neurons, F and M cells, have been defined on the basis of their specific response to either female or male pheromones. These reports set the stage for the dissection of the molecular and cellular mechanisms that mediate gustatory detection of contact pheromones.

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