Working range of stimulus flux transduction determines dendrite size and relative number of pheromone component receptor neurons in moths

T C Baker, M J Domingue, A J Myrick
Chemical Senses 2012, 37 (4): 299-313
We are proposing that the "relative" abundances of the differently tuned pheromone-component-responsive olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) on insect antennae are not a result of natural selection working to maximize absolute sensitivity to individual pheromone components. Rather, relative abundances are a result of specifically tuned sensillum-plus-ORN units having been selected to accurately transduce and report to the antennal lobe the maximal ranges of molecular flux imparted by each pheromone component in every plume strand. To not reach saturating stimulus flux levels from the most concentrated plume strands of a pheromone blend, the dendritic surface area of the ORN type that is tuned to the most abundant component of a pheromone blend is increased in dendritic diameter in order to express a greater number of major pheromone component-specific odorant receptors. The increased ability of these enlarged dendrite, major component-tuned ORNs to accurately report very high flux of its component results in a larger working range of stimulus flux able to be accurately transduced by that type of ORN. However, the larger dendrite size and possibly other high-flux adjustments in titers of pheromone-binding proteins and degrading enzymes cause a decrease in absolute sensitivity to lower flux levels of the major component in lower concentration strands of the pheromone blend. In order to restore the ability of the whole-antenna major pheromone component-specific channel to accurately report to its glomerulus the abundance of the major component in lower concentration strands, the number of major component ORNs over the entire antenna is adjusted upward, creating a greater proportion of major component-tuned ORNs than those tuned to minor components. Pheromone blend balance reported by the whole-antennal major and minor component channels in low plume-flux strands is now restored, and the relative fluxes of the 2 components occurring in both low- and high-flux strands are thereby accurately reported to the component-specific glomeruli. Thus, we suggest that the 2 phenomena, dendrite size and relative numbers of differentially tuned ORNs are linked, and both are related to wide disparities in molecular flux ranges occurring for the more abundant and less abundant components in the pheromone blend plume strands.

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