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Courtship in Drosophila melanogaster offers a powerful experimental paradigm for the study of innate sexually dimorphic behaviors [1, 2]. Fruit fly males exhibit an elaborate courtship display toward a potential mate [1, 2]. Females never actively court males, but their response to the male's display determines whether mating will actually occur. Sex-specific behaviors are hardwired into the nervous system via the actions of the sex determination genes doublesex (dsx) and fruitless (fru) [1]. Activation of male-specific dsx/fru+ P1 neurons in the brain initiates the male's courtship display [3, 4], suggesting that neurons unique to males trigger this sex-specific behavior. In females, dsx+ neurons play a pivotal role in sexual receptivity and post-mating behaviors [1, 2, 5-9]. Yet it is still unclear how dsx+ neurons and dimorphisms in these circuits give rise to the different behaviors displayed by males and females. Here, we manipulated the function of dsx+ neurons in the female brain to investigate higher-order neurons that drive female behaviors. Surprisingly, we found that activation of female dsx+ neurons in the brain induces females to behave like males by promoting male-typical courtship behaviors. Activated females display courtship toward conspecific males or females, as well other Drosophila species. We uncovered specific dsx+ neurons critical for driving male courtship and identified pheromones that trigger such behaviors in activated females. While male courtship behavior was thought to arise from male-specific central neurons, our study shows that the female brain is equipped with latent courtship circuitry capable of inducing this male-specific behavioral program.

Original publication




Journal article


Current Biology


Elsevier (Cell Press)

Publication Date