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The paired male accessory glands of Drosophila melanogaster enhance sperm function, stimulate egg production, and reduce female receptivity to other males by releasing a complex mixture of glycoproteins from a secretory epithelium into seminal fluid. A small subpopulation of about 40 specialized secretory cells, called secondary cells, resides at the distal tip of each gland. We show that these cells grow via mechanisms promoted by mating. If aging males mate repeatedly, a subset of these cells delaminates from and migrates along the apical surface of the glandular epithelium toward the proximal end of the gland. Remarkably, these secretory cells can transfer to females with sperm during mating. The frequency of this event increases with age, so that more than 50% of triple-mated, 18-d-old males transfer secondary cells to females. Bone morphogenetic protein signaling specifically in secondary cells is needed to drive all of these processes and is required for the accessory gland to produce its normal effects on female postmating behavior in multiply mated males. We conclude that secondary cells are secretory cells with unusual migratory properties that can allow them to be transferred to females, and that these properties are a consequence of signaling that is required for secondary cells to maintain their normal reproductive functions as males age and mate.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





19292 - 19297


Aging, Animal Structures, Animals, Bone Morphogenetic Proteins, Cell Movement, Cell Proliferation, Drosophila Proteins, Drosophila melanogaster, Female, Male, Sexual Behavior, Animal, Signal Transduction