Accessory protein determines whether pheromones are detected

Oct 17, 2007

Pheromones are like the molecules you taste as you chomp on a greasy french fry: big and fatty. In research to be published in the October 17 advance online issue of Nature, Rockefeller University researchers reveal an unanticipated role for a new CD36-like protein to help cells detect these invisible communication signals that drive a wide range of behaviors, from recognizing a sibling to courting a mate, a finding that may explain what pheromone communication, pathogen recognition and fat taste perception all have in common.

Scientists led by Leslie Vosshall, head of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior, have found that this protein, called SNMP, or Sensory Neuron Membrane Protein, plays an accessory, yet essential role in helping neurons detect pheromones. Although SNMP plays a specific role in insect pheromone detection, it is a member of the CD36 family of proteins, members of which are found on the surfaces of many cells and have diverse roles, ranging from fatty-acid breakdown to innate immunity.

The pheromone that Vosshall and her colleagues tested, cVA, also known as cis-vaccenyl acetate, binds to a receptor complex and induces aggregation in Drosophila melanogaster. "I think of it as a 'party pheromone,'" says Vosshall. "If a few male flies are hanging out, other flies, male and female, will smell the cVA and tend to gather, and if the mood hits them, the males will court the females that join the group." When Drosophila do mate, the male transfers cVA to the female and marks her as taken, making her less interesting to other males. Prior research has implicated the receptor complex in pheromone detection, but this is the first time researchers have shown that SNMP is essential for neurons to respond to these signals.

When neurons detect cVA, those that express SNMP fire very rapidly, a response not seen in neurons that lack SNMP. However, when mutants were reengineered to express the protein, this response was restored. When flies were engineered to express a moth pheromone receptor, these fly neurons got excited by moth pheromone, and this response also required SNMP. So SNMP seems to be essential for handing off insect pheromones of all types, and will probably be important for pheromone reception in all insects.

In this study, Vosshall and her colleagues present a unifying mechanism of action for CD36 proteins, despite their wide range of biological functions. "Our work suggests that wherever you have lipid-like molecules that need to be detected or captured by cells, these CD36 proteins appear to be necessary to grab these molecules and present them to a specific cell-surface receptor," says Vosshall.

In the case of immune recognition, a CD36 protein grabs a bacterial lipid fragment and delivers it to its receptor. These proteins are also found in the tongue, where CD36 has been suggested to function as a fat taste receptor. Based on the SNMP work, Vosshall suspects that CD36 probably plays an accessory, yet essential role - it binds that big, fatty molecule from your french fry and presents it to the real, as yet unidentified, fat taste receptor.

Source: Rockefeller University

Explore further: The impact of bacteria in our guts

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New type of solar concentrator desn't block the view

6 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through ...

Cities, states face off on municipal broadband

6 hours ago

Wilson, N.C., determined nearly a decade ago that high-speed Internet access would be essential to the community's social and economic health in the 21st century, just as electricity, water and sewers were in the previous ...

Recommended for you

The impact of bacteria in our guts

Aug 22, 2014

The word metabolism gets tossed around a lot, but it means much more than whether you can go back to the buffet for seconds without worrying about your waistline. In fact, metabolism is the set of biochemical ...

Stem cell therapies hold promise, but obstacles remain

Aug 22, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—In an article appearing online today in the journal Science, a group of researchers, including University of Rochester neurologist Steve Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., review the potential and ch ...

New hope in fight against muscular dystrophy

Aug 22, 2014

Research at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology offers hope to those who suffer from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, an incurable, debilitating disease that cuts young lives short.

Biologists reprogram skin cells to mimic rare disease

Aug 21, 2014

Johns Hopkins stem cell biologists have found a way to reprogram a patient's skin cells into cells that mimic and display many biological features of a rare genetic disorder called familial dysautonomia. ...

User comments : 0