The molecular and cellular basis of olfactory response to tsetse fly attractants

by J. Sebastian Chahda, Neeraj Soni, Jennifer S. Sun, Shimaa A. M. Ebrahim, Brian L. Weiss, John R. Carlson

Dipteran or “true” flies occupy nearly every terrestrial habitat, and have evolved to feed upon a wide variety of sources including fruit, pollen, decomposing animal matter, and even vertebrate blood. Here we analyze the molecular, genetic and cellular basis of odor response in the tsetse fly Glossina morsitans, which feeds on the blood of humans and their livestock, and is a vector of deadly trypanosomes. The G. morsitans antenna contains specialized subtypes of sensilla, some of which line a sensory pit not found in the fruit fly Drosophila. We characterize distinct patterns of G. morsitans Odor receptor (GmmOr) gene expression in the antenna. We devise a new version of the “empty neuron” heterologous expression system, and use it to functionally express several GmmOrs in a mutant olfactory receptor neuron (ORN) of Drosophila. GmmOr35 responds to 1-hexen-3-ol, an odorant found in human emanations, and also alpha-pinene, a compound produced by malarial parasites. Another receptor, GmmOr9, which is expressed in the sensory pit, responds to acetone, 2-butanone and 2-propanol. We confirm by electrophysiological recording that neurons of the sensory pit respond to these odorants. Acetone and 2-butanone are strong attractants long used in the field to trap tsetse. We find that 2-propanol is also an attractant for both G. morsitans and the related species G. fuscipes, a major vector of African sleeping sickness. The results identify 2-propanol as a candidate for an environmentally friendly and practical tsetse attractant. Taken together, this work characterizes the olfactory system of a highly distinct kind of fly, and it provides an approach to identifying new agents for controlling the fly and the devastating diseases that it carries.

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