What Happens in the Female Brain During Courtship and Mating? Fruit Flies Reveal All

First Posted: Jul 03, 2014 05:50 AM EDT

When a female chooses a mate, complex processes occur in her brain. But how does this differ from males, and what processes exactly are involved? Now, scientists have taken a look at fruit flies in order to uncover clues about these events that may be relevant to humans and other animals.

Over the past 100 years, researchers have largely focused on the courtship behavior of males. But what happens with females and how do they decide whether or not to reject a male? The scientists decided to find out.

The researchers discovered two small groups of neurons in the female brain that function to modulate whether she will mate or not with a male based on his distinct pheromones and courtship song--at least when it comes to fruit flies. These neurons are also genetically distinct from previously identified neurons that function to drive the elaborate courtship ritual for males.

"An understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying how sensory information elicits appropriate sexual behaviors can be sued as a point of comparison for how similar sexual behavior circuits are structured and function in other species," said Bruce Baker of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janella Farm Research Campus, in a news release.

The small group of neurons are located in the abdominal nerve cord and the reproductive tract and is called Abdominal-B neurons. They're necessary for the female to pause her movement and interact with a courting male. While when inactive the female ignores the male, active neurons cause the female to stop moving and take notice.

"Sexual courtship is a duet-the male and female send signals back and forth until they reach the point that copulation process," said Jennifer Russell, the lead author of the new study. "Pausing to interact with a male, rather than avoiding him, is a crucial step in any female's behavior leading to copulation. Tying a group of neurons to this particular response to males will allow us to dissect in detail how female mating circuitry functions."

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

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