Development (Cambridge, England)

Female-biased dimorphism underlies a female-specific role for post-embryonic Ilp7 neurons in Drosophila fertility.

PMID 23981656


In Drosophila melanogaster, much of our understanding of sexually dimorphic neuronal development and function comes from the study of male behavior, leaving female behavior less well understood. Here, we identify a post-embryonic population of Insulin-like peptide 7 (Ilp7)-expressing neurons in the posterior ventral nerve cord that innervate the reproductive tracts and exhibit a female bias in their function. They form two distinct dorsal and ventral subsets in females, but only a single dorsal subset in males, signifying a rare example of a female-specific neuronal subset. Female post-embryonic Ilp7 neurons are glutamatergic motoneurons innervating the oviduct and are required for female fertility. In males, they are serotonergic/glutamatergic neuromodulatory neurons innervating the seminal vesicle but are not required for male fertility. In both sexes, these neurons express the sex-differentially spliced fruitless-P1 transcript but not doublesex. The male fruitless-P1 isoform (fruM) was necessary and sufficient for serotonin expression in the shared dorsal Ilp7 subset, but although it was necessary for eliminating female-specific Ilp7 neurons in males, it was not sufficient for their elimination in females. By contrast, sex-specific RNA-splicing by female-specific transformer is necessary for female-type Ilp7 neurons in females and is sufficient for their induction in males. Thus, the emergence of female-biased post-embryonic Ilp7 neurons is mediated in a subset-specific manner by a tra- and fru-dependent mechanism in the shared dorsal subset, and a tra-dependent, fru-independent mechanism in the female-specific subset. These studies provide an important counterpoint to studies of the development and function of male-biased neuronal dimorphism in Drosophila.