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Hybrid Neurons in a MicroRNA Mutant Are Putative Evolutionary Intermediates in Insect CO2 Sensory Systems

Science  29 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5867, pp. 1256-1260
DOI: 10.1126/science.1149483

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Abstract

Carbon dioxide (CO2) elicits different olfactory behaviors across species. In Drosophila, neurons that detect CO2 are located in the antenna, form connections in a ventral glomerulus in the antennal lobe, and mediate avoidance. By contrast, in the mosquito these neurons are in the maxillary palps (MPs), connect to medial sites, and promote attraction. We found in Drosophila that loss of a microRNA, miR-279, leads to formation of CO2 neurons in the MPs. miR-279 acts through down-regulation of the transcription factor Nerfin-1. The ectopic neurons are hybrid cells. They express CO2 receptors and form connections characteristic of CO2 neurons, while exhibiting wiring and receptor characteristics of MP olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs). We propose that this hybrid ORN reveals a cellular intermediate in the evolution of species-specific behaviors elicited by CO2.

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