Deploying exosomes to win a battle of the sexes

August 25, 2014
Male fruit flies deploy exosomes to alter the mating behavior of females. Shown here, a close-up view (right) of the female reproductive tract (left) reveals a green exosome (arrow) on the surface. Credit: Corrigan et al., 2014

There are many biological tools that help animals ensure reproductive success. A new study in The Journal of Cell Biology provides further detail into how one such mechanism enables male fruit flies to improve their odds by stopping females from mating with other flies.

In addition to sperm, semen carries products that foster sperm survival, promote egg fertilization, and serve other functions that optimize a male's chances of passing along his genes. In male fruit flies, for example, reproductive accessory glands (thought to be equivalent to the prostate gland in humans) secrete factors into the that make the recipient less inclined to remate. But it's unclear how some of these signaling factors are produced and delivered in order to reprogram a female's behavior against her own self-interest.

Researchers from the University of Oxford identified tiny membrane-bound vesicles called exosomes that are secreted into the seminal fluid by the so-called "secondary cells" of male accessory glands. The authors showed that, after mating, the exosomes fuse with sperm and interact with cells along the .

"Exosomes not only carry ligands that will bind to target cells, but they also carry receptors and intracellular signaling molecules inside them," explains senior author Clive Wilson, "so they potentially have a lot of possibilities in terms of their ability to reprogram cells."

When the researchers reduced the number of exosomes produced by secondary cells, the female flies were more inclined to remate. This indicates that the exosomes are responsible for the behavioral changes, by interacting with the targeted female cells to overpower normal signaling pathways.

When the authors reduced a signaling cascade known as the BMP pathway within secondary cells, which is known to affect female remating behavior, they observed that vesicles formed in the cells but were not secreted as exosomes. This suggests that at least part of BMP's role in regulating female behavior occurs through its role as a regulator of exosome production. The findings also raise the interesting possibility that BMP signaling might play a role in exosome secretion in human cancers of tissues that secrete , such as the prostate and breast.

Explore further: Clarification of unique communication channel with possible role in tumor

More information: Corrigan, L., et al. 2014. J. Cell Biol. doi:10.1083/jcb.201401072

Related Stories

Calcium and reproduction go together

August 22, 2014

Everyone's heard of the birds and the bees. But that old expression leaves out the flowers that are being fertilized. The fertilization process for flowering plants is particularly complex and requires extensive communication ...

A better understanding of cell to cell communication

August 22, 2014

Researchers of the ISREC Institute at the School of Life Sciences, EPFL, have deciphered the mechanism whereby some microRNAs are retained in the cell while others are secreted and delivered to neighboring cells.

Recommended for you

A better way to read the genome

October 9, 2015

UConn researchers have sequenced the RNA of the most complicated gene known in nature, using a hand-held sequencer no bigger than a cell phone.

Threat posed by 'pollen thief' bees uncovered

October 9, 2015

A new University of Stirling study has uncovered the secrets of 'pollen thief' bees - which take pollen from flowers but fail to act as effective pollinators - and the threat they pose to certain plant species.

Most EU nations seek to bar GM crops

October 4, 2015

Nineteen of the 28 EU member states have applied to keep genetically modified crops out of all or part of their territory, the bloc's executive arm said Sunday, the deadline for opting out of new European legislation on GM ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.