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Mechanisms of gustatory coding in Spodoptera littoralis

Abstract : Taste is one of the fundamental senses by which animals can detect food sources (sugars, salts, lipids, amino acids) but also noxious compounds dissolved in aqueous solution or adsorbed on surfaces (leaf, cuticle). Unlike olfaction, where only cephalic organs are involved in the detection of volatile compounds, in insects, gustatory sensilla are located on different parts of the insect body (mouthparts, legs, wings, ovipositor) which results in the precise spatial location of the stimuli which excite them. These sensilla are involved in different behaviours and might therefore be tuned to different types of contact chemosensory stimuli. These functional constraints imply a different organisation of the nervous centres processing the information received from gustatory receptor neurons. Whereas projections from olfactory receptor neurons are clearly chemotopic, comparatively little is known on how gustatory neurons project to the central nervous system and how signals are encoded and processed by central neurons. In different insect species, including Lepidoptera, responses of gustatory receptor neurons situated on the tarsae and the abdomen have been described. However, physiological characteristics of antennal gustatory sensilla and the behavioural context in which they are used are only starting to be investigated. The objectives of this thesis were to study the gustatory neurons of contact chemosensory sensilla present on the antennae of adult Spodoptera littoralis using two different approaches: an electrophysiological approach of testing soluble chemicals and recording the firing pattern of these neurons; and a neuroanatomical approach of staining their pathways and target regions in the brain. Our electrophysiological observations show that taste sensilla possess neurons that respond to sugars like sucrose, fructose and glucose and to NaCl. We could not identify a gustatory receptor neuron responding to bitter compounds or amino acids, but the range of tested substances was limited and nothing is known on the behavioural significance of such compounds. We were able to test the sensitivity along the antenna of the sensilla located on the lateral side of the antenna but no differences were noticed. However, sensilla in males and females differed in sensitivity. In females, the intensity of responses was found to be weaker for the sensilla on the dorsal side of the antennae than for those on the ventral side. Antennation is a behaviour frequently described before mating or egg laying. The precise role of contact chemoreceptors in this kind of behaviours is however, unknown. For a conclusive interpretation of our data on the neuronal coding and central representation of taste information from the antennae, the involvement of antennal gustatory receptors in mating behaviour, host-plant detection and oviposition and their possible interactions with olfactory receptor neurons remains to be investigated. A scanning electron microscopic study showed no sexual dimorphism in the distribution of taste sensilla on the antennae. Mass fills of antennal afferents and backfills of individual contact chemoreceptive sensilla using Neurobiotin revealed 4 distinct projection areas of antennal gustatory sensilla. Two areas are within the deutocerebrum: the antennal motor and mechanosensory centre (AMMC) and a region situated posteriorly to the antennal lobes. The two other areas are in the tritocerebrum/suboesophageal ganglion complex. As our electrophysiological investigations showed that different neurons in the same sensillum respond to different stimuli, including mechanical stimuli for one of the neurons, it can be hypothesized that the projection areas are functionally distinct. No evidence for somatotopy of sensillar afferents originating from different parts of the antenna was found, with the methods used. A more detailed analysis of branching patterns within each target zone might reveal some form of somatotopy, however.
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Submitted on : Friday, March 20, 2009 - 8:00:00 AM
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Alexandra Luminita Popescu. Mechanisms of gustatory coding in Spodoptera littoralis. Life Sciences [q-bio]. AgroParisTech, 2008. English. ⟨NNT : 2008AGPT0079⟩. ⟨pastel-00004445⟩

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