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Chem Senses. 2007 Jun;32(5):483-91. Epub 2007 May 17.

Increased behavioral and neuronal sensitivity to sex pheromone after brief odor experience in a moth.

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Chemical Ecology, Department of Plant Protection Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 230 53 Alnarp, Sweden.


Plasticity in the response to stimuli related to food and oviposition cues is well documented in insects. However, responses to cues related to reproduction, for example, sex pheromones, are considered to be innate and thus not affected by experience. Here we show that brief preexposure to sex pheromones, without ensuing reward, lowers the threshold for behavioral response and augments the sensitivity in antennal lobe interneurons to pheromone compared with naive male moths. Thus, the sex pheromone system in insects can be modulated by experience. In addition, we show that the behavioral attraction to sex pheromone increases after preexposure in a time-dependent manner: a short-term effect, possibly a form of sensitization, and a long-term effect after more than 24 h. The behavioral long-term effect is paralleled by an increase in sensitivity of interneurons in the primary olfactory center, whereas the peripheral olfactory system does not change its sensitivity. We hypothesize that short-term sensitization to sex pheromone serves as a kind of alert system, whereas the long-term effect improves male performance when reproductively active females are present.

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