Genetic control of courtship behavior in the housefly: evidence for a conserved bifurcation of the sex-determining pathway.
Meier N., Käppeli SC., Hediger Niessen M., Billeter J-C., Goodwin SF., Bopp D.
In Drosophila melanogaster, genes of the sex-determination hierarchy orchestrate the development and differentiation of sex-specific tissues, establishing sex-specific physiology and neural circuitry. One of these sex-determination genes, fruitless (fru), plays a key role in the formation of neural circuits underlying Drosophila male courtship behavior. Conservation of fru gene structure and sex-specific expression has been found in several insect orders, though it is still to be determined whether a male courtship role for the gene is employed in these species due to the lack of mutants and homologous experimental evidence. We have isolated the fru ortholog (Md-fru) from the common housefly, Musca domestica, and show the gene's conserved genomic structure. We demonstrate that male-specific Md-fru transcripts arise by conserved mechanisms of sex-specific splicing. Here we show that Md-fru, is similarly involved in controlling male courtship behavior. A male courtship behavioral function for Md-fru was revealed by the behavioral and neuroanatomical analyses of a hypomorphic allele, Md-tra(man) , which specifically disrupted the expression of Md-fru in males, leading to severely impaired male courtship behavior. In line with a role in nervous system development, we found that expression of Md-fru was confined to neural tissues in the brain, most prominently in optic neuropil and in peripheral sensory organs. We propose that, like in Drosophila, overt sexual differentiation of the housefly depends on a sex-determining pathway that bifurcates downstream of the Md-tra gene to coordinate dimorphic development of non-neuronal tissues mediated by Md-dsx with that of neuronal tissues largely mediated by Md-fru.