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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 May 23;92(11):5082-6.

The loss of female sex pheromone after mating in the corn earworm moth Helicoverpa zea: identification of a male pheromonostatic peptide.

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  • 1Insect Neurobiology and Hormone Laboratory, U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center-East, MD 20705, USA.


Female moths often become depleted of sex pheromone after mating as the various components of virgin behavior are switched off. In examining a potential male contribution to these events in the corn earworm moth Helicoverpa zea, we have characterized a basic polypeptide from the tissues producing (accessory glands) and storing (duplex) the seminal fluids. The peptide evokes the depletion of sex pheromone when injected into virgin females. This pheromonostatic peptide (PSP) is 57 amino acids long and contains a single disulfide bridge. It is blocked at the N terminus with pyroglutamate and at the C terminus by amidation. As little as 23 ng of peptide evokes the near-complete depletion of pheromone in decapitated (neck-ligated) females that had been injected with pheromone biosynthesis-activating neuropeptide. Activity is approximately 15-fold less in intact virgins, showing that the head limits the expression of activity in these injected females. Females mated to surgically impaired males, capable of producing a spermatophore but not transferring spermatozoa or seminal fluids, are depleted of pheromone by injected peptide. Females whose abdominal nerve cords have been severed are not depleted of pheromone after mating. Thus, neural signals either descending or ascending via the nerve cord are required for the depletion of pheromone after mating. PSP, from the seminal fluids, may participate in this process by direct or indirect action on the glandular tissue; if so, it represents an unusual mechanism in insects for the regulation by seminal fluids of postmating reproductive behavior.

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