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ACS Chem Biol. 2012 Aug 17;7(8):1321-5. doi: 10.1021/cb300169c. Epub 2012 Jun 12.

Targeted metabolomics reveals a male pheromone and sex-specific ascaroside biosynthesis in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Boyce Thompson Institute and Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


In the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, a class of small molecule signals called ascarosides regulate development, mating, and social behaviors. Ascaroside production has been studied in the predominant sex, the hermaphrodite, but not in males, which account for less than 1% of wild-type worms grown under typical laboratory conditions. Using HPLC-MS-based targeted metabolomics, we show that males also produce ascarosides and that their ascaroside profile differs markedly from that of hermaphrodites. Whereas hermaphrodite ascaroside profiles are dominated by ascr#3, containing an α,β-unsaturated fatty acid, males predominantly produce the corresponding dihydro-derivative ascr#10. This small structural modification profoundly affects signaling properties: hermaphrodites are retained by attomole-amounts of male-produced ascr#10, whereas hermaphrodite-produced ascr#3 repels hermaphrodites and attracts males. Male production of ascr#10 is population density-dependent, indicating sensory regulation of ascaroside biosynthesis. Analysis of gene expression data supports a model in which sex-specific regulation of peroxisomal β-oxidation produces functionally different ascaroside profiles.

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