Open Access Research article

Ostrinia revisited: Evidence for sex linkage in European Corn Borer Ostrinia nubilalis (Hubner) pheromone reception

Shannon B Olsson1*, Subaharan Kesevan2, Astrid T Groot3, Teun Dekker4, David G Heckel3 and Bill S Hansson1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Evolutionary Neuroethology, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena, 07745, Germany

2 Central Plantations Crops Research Institute, 671124 Kasaragod, Kerala, India

3 Department of Entomology, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena, 07745, Germany

4 Division of Chemical Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, PO Box 44, SE-230 53, Sweden

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:285  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-285

Published: 16 September 2010



The European Corn Borer, Ostrinia nubilalis (Hubner), is a keystone model for studies on the evolution of sex pheromone diversity and its role in establishing reproductive isolation. This species consists of two sympatric races, each utilizing opposite isomers of the same compound as their major pheromone component. Female production and male response are congruent in each race, and males from each strain exhibit phenotypic differences in peripheral physiology. Both strains possess co-localized pheromone-sensitive olfactory sensory neurons characterized by a larger amplitude action potential (spike) responding to the major pheromone component, and a smaller spike amplitude cell responding to the minor component, i.e. the opposite isomer. These differences in amplitude correspond to differences in dendritic diameter between the two neurons. Previous studies showed that behavioral response to the pheromone blend was sex-linked, but spike amplitude response to pheromone components matched autosomal, not sex-linked inheritance.


As part of a larger study to finely map the loci responsible for pheromone communication in this species, we have reanalyzed peripheral physiology among parental, and first and second generation hybrids between the two pheromone strains using tungsten electrode electrophysiology. Our results reveal that differences in spike amplitude ratio between male pheromone-sensitive sensory neurons in O. nubilalis races are controlled, at least partially, by sex-linked genes that exhibit E-strain dominance.


We propose that peripheral olfactory response in O. nubilalis may be affected both by autosomal and sex-linked genes exhibiting a cross-locus dominance effect, and suggest that the genetic basis for pheromone reception and response in the species is more closely linked than previously thought.