A Candidate Vertebrate Pheromone, SPF, Increases Female Receptivity in a Salamander
Plethodontid (lungless) salamanders have evolved an unusual pheromone delivery system in which the male courtship pheromone is applied to the skin of the female, apparently diffusing through the mucosal-rich epithelia into her superficial capillary system. In Desmognathus ocoee, a plethodontid salamander that uses the diffusion mode of pheromone delivery, we conducted a behavioural bioassay to test a 20–25 kDa molecular weight fraction of the male courtship pheromone: this fraction was effective in increasing female receptivity. The principal component of the D. ocoee pheromone fraction was identified as a 25 kDa protein that had significant sequence similarity with the precursor of a newt reproductive pheromone (a decapeptide termed sodefrin). We termed the principal protein component in the D. ocoee pheromone “Sodefrin Precursor-like Factor” (SPF). SPF also occurs in other plethodontid salamanders, including species of Plethodon, Aneides and Eurycea. Across these species, SPF is a highly variable protein that bears the signature of positive selection. The presence of SPF in distantly related genera suggests that the sodefrin precursor gene has been retained as a courtship signal throughout the evolutionary radiation of plethodontid salamanders.
KeywordsFemale Receptivity Behavioural Trial Male Pheromone Behavioural Bioassay Reproductive Protein
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