Chemical communication in heliothine moths - II. Central processing of intra- and interspecific olfactory messages in the male corn earworm moth Helicoverpa zea

Thomas A. Christensen, Hanna Mustaparta, John G. Hildebrand

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1. The antennal lobes (ALs) in the brain of the corn earworm moth Helicoverpa zea (formerly Heliothis zea; Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) were examined using combined anatomical and electrophysiological methods. Like other moths, male H. zea possess a sex-specific macroglomerular complex (MGC) for processing information about the female sex-pheromone blend. Unlike other moths, however, the MGC in H. zea consists of 3 distinct glomerular structures: two situated dorsally, and a third situated ventrally (Fig. 1). 2. Intracellular recording and staining revealed a population of projection neurons that link the MGC with the protocerebrum (Figs. 4, 7, and 11). Four physiological classes of MGC neurons were identified based upon their responses to stimulation of the antenna with different components of the pheromonal blends of H. zea and Heliothis virescens (a sympatric species). One class responded selectively to the principal component in both species, Z11 16:AL (Figs. 2 and 3). A second, more broadly tuned class showed strong responses to Z11-16:AL and also to other pheromonal components (Figs. 5 and 6). A third class did not respond to Z11-16:AL but did respond to Z9-14:AL, a substance released by H. virescens females that helps attract conspecific males while it inhibits the attraction of H. zea males (Figs. 8, 9 and 10). Some of these neurons also responded to another pheromonal component required for male attraction in H. zea, Z9-16: AL. A fourth class responded in a unique fashion to a blend of Z11-16: AL and Z9-14:AL(Fig. 12). 3. Projection neurons that responded to Z11-16:AL had arborizations in all 3 MGC glomeruli (Figs. 4 and 7), whereas neurons that responded to Z9-14:AL from H. virescens had arborizations in just one of the dorsal glomeruli of the MGC (Fig. 11). Thus these two types of neurons with widely different quality-coding functions have overlapping arborizations in one dorsal glomerulus in the MGC, demonstrating that the MGC is not exclusively involved with processing species-specific (pheromonal) information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-274
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 1991



  • Corn earworm
  • Helicoverpa (Heliothis) zea
  • Interspecific inhibition
  • Intracellular recording
  • Sex pheromone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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