Functional characterization of odorant receptors in the ponerine ant, Harpegnathos saltator

Jesse D. Slone, Gregory M. Pask, Stephen T. Ferguson, Jocelyn G. Millar, Shelley L. Berger, Danny Reinberg, Juergen Liebig, Anandasankar Ray, Laurence J. Zwiebel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Animals use a variety of sensory modalities—including visual, acoustic, and chemical—to sense their environment and interact with both conspecifics and other species. Such communication is especially critical in eusocial insects such as honey bees and ants, where cooperation is critical for survival and reproductive success. Various classes of chemoreceptors have been hypothesized to play essential roles in the origin and evolution of eusociality in ants, through their functional roles in pheromone detection that characterizes reproductive status and colony membership. To better understand the molecular mechanisms by which chemoreceptors regulate social behaviors, we investigated the roles of a critical class of chemoreceptors, the odorant receptors (ORs), from the ponerine ant Harpegnathos saltator in detecting cuticular hydrocarbon pheromones. In light of the massive OR expansion in ants (∼400 genes per species), a representative survey based on phylogenetic and transcriptomic criteria was carried out across discrete odorant receptor subfamilies. Responses to several classes of semiochemicals are described, including cuticular hydrocarbons and mandibular gland components that act as H. saltator pheromones, and a range of more traditional general odorants. When viewed through the prism of caste-specific OR enrichment and distinctive OR subfamily odorant response profiles, our findings suggest that whereas individual HsOrs appear to be narrowly tuned, there is no apparent segregation of tuning responses within any discrete HsOr subfamily. Instead, the HsOR gene family as a whole responds to a broad array of compounds, including both cuticular hydrocarbons and general odorants that are likely to mediate distinct behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8586-8591
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number32
StatePublished - Aug 8 2017


  • Ant
  • Odor coding
  • Odorant receptor
  • Pheromone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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