InteractiveFly: GeneBrief

Ionotropic receptor 25a: Biological Overview | References

Gene name - Ionotropic receptor 25a

Synonyms -

Cytological map position - 25A8-25A8

Function - Ionotropic glutamate receptor

Keywords - Ionotropic Receptor (IR) family of variant ionotropic glutamate receptors - ligand-gated ion channel - part of an input pathway to the circadian clock that detects small temperature differences - required for humidity preference - co-receptor subunit in chemosensation and thermosensation

Symbol - Ir25a

FlyBase ID: FBgn0031634

Genetic map position - chr2L:4,830,845-4,835,321

Classification - Ligand-gated ion channel

Cellular location - surface transmembrane

NCBI links: Precomputed BLAST | EntrezGene
Recent literature
Knecht, Z. A., Silbering, A. F., Ni, L., Klein, M., Budelli, G., Bell, R., Abuin, L., Ferrer, A. J., Samuel, A. D., Benton, R. and Garrity, P. A. (2016). Distinct combinations of variant ionotropic glutamate receptors mediate thermosensation and hygrosensation in Drosophila. Elife 5. PubMed ID: 27656904
Ionotropic Receptors (IRs) are a large subfamily of variant ionotropic glutamate receptors present across Protostomia. While these receptors are most extensively studied for their roles in chemosensory detection, recent work has implicated two family members, IR21a and IR25a, in thermosensation in Drosophila. This study characterized one of the most evolutionarily deeply conserved receptors, IR93a, and shows that it is co-expressed and functions with IR21a and IR25a to mediate physiological and behavioral responses to cool temperatures. IR93a is also co-expressed with IR25a and a distinct receptor, IR40a, in a discrete population of sensory neurons in the sacculus, a multi-chambered pocket within the antenna. This combination of receptors was demonstrated to be required for neuronal responses to dry air and behavioral discrimination of humidity differences. These results identify IR93a as a common component of molecularly and cellularly distinct IR pathways important for thermosensation and hygrosensation in insects.
Knecht, Z. A., Silbering, A. F., Cruz, J., Yang, L., Croset, V., Benton, R. and Garrity, P. A. (2017). Ionotropic Receptor-dependent moist and dry cells control hygrosensation in Drosophila. Elife 6. PubMed ID: 28621663
Insects use hygrosensation (humidity sensing) to avoid desiccation and, in vectors such as mosquitoes, to locate vertebrate hosts. Sensory neurons activated by either dry or moist air ('dry cells' and 'moist cells') have been described in many insects, but their behavioral roles and the molecular basis of their hygrosensitivity remain unclear. It has been reported that Drosophila hygrosensation relies on three Ionotropic Receptors (IRs) required for dry cell function: IR25a, IR93a and IR40a. This paper reports the discovery of Drosophila moist cells and shows that they require IR25a and IR93a together with IR68a, a conserved, but orphan IR. Both IR68a- and IR40a-dependent pathways drive hygrosensory behavior: each is important for dry-seeking by hydrated flies and together they underlie moist-seeking by dehydrated flies. These studies reveal that humidity sensing in Drosophila, and likely other insects, involves the combined activity of two molecularly related but neuronally distinct hygrosensing systems.
Lee, Y., Poudel, S., Kim, Y., Thakur, D. and Montell, C. (2018). Calcium taste avoidance in Drosophila. Neuron 97(1): 67-74.e64. PubMed ID: 29276056
Many animals, ranging from vinegar flies to humans, discriminate a wide range of tastants, including sugars, bitter compounds, NaCl, and sour. However, the taste of Ca(2+) is poorly understood, and it is unclear whether animals such as Drosophila melanogaster are endowed with this sense. This study examined Ca(2+) taste in Drosophila and showed that high levels of Ca(2+) are aversive. The repulsion was mediated by two mechanisms-activation of a specific class of gustatory receptor neurons (GRNs), which suppresses feeding and inhibition of sugar-activated GRNs, which normally stimulates feeding. The distaste for Ca(2+), and Ca(2+)-activated action potentials required several members of the variant ionotropic receptor (IR) family (IR25a, IR62a, and IR76b). Consistent with the Ca(2+) rejection, it was found that high concentrations of Ca(2+) decreased survival. It is concluded that gustatory detection of Ca(2+) represents an additional sense of taste in Drosophila and is required for avoiding toxic levels of this mineral.

Circadian clocks are endogenous timers adjusting behaviour and physiology with the solar day. Visual and non-visual photoreceptors are responsible for synchronizing circadian clocks to light, but clock-resetting is also achieved by alternating day and night temperatures with only 2°-4°C difference. This study shows that Drosophila Ionotropic Receptor 25a (IR25a) is required for behavioural synchronization to low-amplitude temperature cycles. This channel is expressed in sensory neurons of internal stretch receptors previously implicated in temperature synchronization of the circadian clock. IR25a is required for temperature-synchronized clock protein oscillations in subsets of central clock neurons. Extracellular leg nerve recordings reveal temperature- and IR25a-dependent sensory responses, and IR25a misexpression confers temperature-dependent firing of heterologous neurons. It is proposed that IR25a is part of an input pathway to the circadian clock that detects small temperature differences. This pathway operates in the absence of known 'hot' and 'cold' sensors in the Drosophila antenna, revealing the existence of novel periphery-to-brain temperature signalling channels (Chen, 2015).

In Drosophila, daily activity rhythms are controlled by a network of ~150 clock neurons expressing the clock genes period (per) and timeless (tim). These encode repressor proteins that negatively feedback on their own promoters resulting in 24h oscillations of clock molecules. Temperature cycles (TC) synchronize molecular clocks present in peripheral appendages in a tissue-autonomous manner, whereas synchronization of clock neurons in the brain mainly depends on peripheral temperature receptors located in the chordotonal organs (ChO) and the ChO-expressed gene no circadian temperature entrainment (nocte) (Chen, 2015).

To discover novel factors involved in temperature entrainment, Nocte-interacting proteins were identified by co-immunoprecipitation and mass-spectrometry. Focus was placed on IR25a, a member of a divergent subfamily of ionotropic glutamate receptors, and the interaction by co-immunoprecipitation was varfied after overexpressing IR25a and Nocte in all clock cells using tim-gal4. IR25a is expressed in different populations of sensory neurons, including those in the antenna and labellum. In the olfactory system IR25a acts as a co-receptor with different odour-sensing IRs (Abuin, 2011; Chen, 2015 and references therein).

To investigate if IR25a is co-expressed with nocte in ChO, IR25a expression in femur and antennal ChO was analyzed using an IR25a-gal4 line (Abuin, 2011). IR25a-gal4-driven mCD8-GFP labelled subsets of ChO neurons in the femur, overlapping substantially with nompC-QF driven QUAS-Tomato signals (using the QF binary transcriptional activation system). nompC-QF is expressed in larval ChO18 and in the adult femur ChO. Comparison of IR25a-driven mCD8-GFP and nuclear DsRed signals with those of other ChO neuron drivers suggests that IR25a is expressed in a subset of femur ChO neurons and Johnston's Organ (JO) neurons. To determine if IR25a-gal4 ChO signals reflect endogenous IR25a expression, the presence of IR25a mRNA in the femur and leg was confirmed, and the co-localization was confirmed of anti-IR25a immunofluorescence signals in femur ChO neurons. IR25a was detected in ChO neuron cell bodies and ciliated dendrites, as was an mCherry-IR25a fusion protein expressed in these cells (Chen, 2015).

As nocte1 mutants do not synchronize to 12h-12-h 16°C:25°C temperature cycles in constant light (LL), IR25a-/- mutants were analyzed under these conditions. Unlike nocte1, the IR25a-/- flies synchronized well to this regime, and similar results were obtained at warmer temperature cycles. To test whether IR25a is specifically required for synchronization to small temperature intervals, IR25-/- flies were subjected to various temperature cycles with an amplitude of only 2°C. Surprisingly, and in contrast to wild-type, IR25-/- mutants did not synchronize to any of the shallow temperature cycles in LL or constant darkness (DD). In LL, wild-type and IR25a rescue flies showed a clear activity peak in the second part of the warm period before and after the 6h shift of the temperature cycle. By contrast, IR25a-/- mutants were constantly active throughout the temperature cycle, apart from a short period of reduced activity at the beginning of the warm phase of TC1. In DD, control flies slowly advanced (or delayed) their evening activity peak during phase-advanced (or delayed) temperature cycles. The phase of this activity peak was maintained in the subsequent free-running conditions (DD, constant 25°C) indicating stable re-entrainment of the circadian clock. By contrast, IR25a mutants did not shift their evening peak during the temperature cycle, keeping their original phase throughout the experiment (Chen, 2015).

To quantify entrainment in LL, the 'entrainment index' (EI) was determined, whereas for most DD experiments the phase difference of the main activity peak upon release into constant conditions between IR25a mutants and controls was calculated. In all 2°C amplitude temperature cycles tested the entrainment index of IR25a-/- flies was significantly lower and phase calculation indicated no phase shift or a significantly reduced phase shift compared to controls. The same non-synchronization phenotype was observed in IR25-/Df(IR25a) flies, and temperature synchronization was fully restored in IR25-/- rescue flies IR25a-/- mutants synchronize to light and have normal free-running and temperature compensated periods. These results suggest that IR25a enables the circadian clock to sense subtle temperature changes across the entire physiological range, rather than mediating synchronization to a specific range. Increasing the temperature cycle amplitude to 4°C consistently restored temperature entrainment in IR25a-/- flies (Chen, 2015).

Temperature receptors located in fly antennae and arista are not required for temperature-synchronized behaviour. As expected, it was found that antennal IR25a function is not required for temperature entrainment. To reveal the importance of IR25a expression in ChO neurons, tissue-specific IR25a RNA interference (RNAi) was performed using validated transgenes. IR25a RNAi in all or subsets of ChO neurons resulted in a lack of entrainment. By contrast, IR25a RNAi in multidendritic, TRPA1-expressing or clock neurons did not impair temperature entrainment. These findings are consistent with the absence of IR25a expression in clock neurons and the brain and show that IR25a functions in ChO neurons for temperature entrainment to 25°C:27°C temperature cycles in LL (Chen, 2015).

To identify the neural substrates underlying the lack of behavioural synchronization, clock protein levels were quantified in wild-type, IR25a-/-, and IR25a-/- rescue flies exposed to a shallow temperature cycle in LL. Although TIM expression was robustly rhythmic and synchronized in all clock neuronal groups in controls, TIM was barely detectable in the Dorsal Neuron 1 (DN1) and DN2 of IR25a-/- flies. Moreover, in the small and large ventral lateral neurons (s-LNv and l-LNv), TIM expression exhibited an additional peak during the warm phase. In the DN3, TIM declined earlier compared to controls and there was no effect on the dorsal lateral neurons (LNd). In temperature cycles and DD, TIM levels in DN1 were also blunted but oscillations in the DN2 and DN3 were similar to controls. In contrast to LL, TIM did not oscillate in any of the LN groups and was at constantly low levels, consistent with the behavioural results obtained under these conditions. The alterations of TIM expression are temperature specific, as normal oscillations were observed in LD cycles at 25°C. An increase of the temperature cycle amplitude to 4°C also restored normal TIM expression in IR25a-/- flies, in agreement with the behavioural rescue. In summary, in low-amplitude temperature cycles, IR25a is required for normally synchronized TIM oscillations in DN1-3 and LNv in LL and in DN1 and LN clock neurons in DD (Chen, 2015).

Tests were performed to see if the clock neurons affected by the lack of IR25a are indeed involved in regulating behavioural synchronization to shallow temperature cycles by blocking synaptic transmission using tetanus-toxin (TNT). Indeed, TNT-expression in DN1 and DN2 blocked synchronization in LL, whereas in DD only DN1 blockage interfered with temperature entrainment. Consistent with the differential effect on TIM oscillations in LL and DD these results strongly suggest that IR25a is required for the synchronized output of the DN1 (LL and DD) and DN2 (LL) to control temperature-entrained behaviour (Chen, 2015).

Next, it was asked if ChO might directly sense temperature in an IR25a-dependent manner. Leg nerve activity was recorded in restrained preparations, and ChO units were identified in the compound signal. In both wild-type and IR25a-/- flies, spontaneous leg movement changed as a function of temperature along with motor and sensory activity. Additionally, presumed ChO activity of wild-type flies also increased during periods without movement. This temperature-induced but movement-independent, ChO activity was absent in IR25-/- flies, showing that temperature is sensed in the legs in an IR25a-dependent manner. To test if IR25a contributes directly to temperature-sensing, this channel was ectopically expressed in the physiologically well-characterized, IR25a-negative, l-LNv. As a positive control, the temperature-sensitive Drosophila TRPA1 channel was also expressed in the l-LNv. Isolated brains were exposed to a temperature ramp, and spike frequency of individual l-LNv was recorded. Control l-LNv did not show a significant temperature-dependent change in neural activity. As expected, the firing rate of TRPA1 expressing neurons drastically increased linearly with temperature, as did other cellular parameters. IR25a expression resulted in a linear and reversible temperature-dependent increase in action potential firing frequency, whereas other cellular parameters showed no difference. Increasing the temperature by only 2°-3°C also lead to a reversible increase in firing frequency in IR25a expressing l-LNv. By contrast, expression of the related, but olfactory-specific co-receptor IR8a (which is not required for temperature entrainment) did not confer temperature-sensitivity. These observations suggest that IR25a is at least part of a thermosensory receptor required for temperature entrainment (Chen, 2015).

These data indicating that IR25a contributes to temperature sensing within ChO extend the roles of IR's beyond chemoreception, reminiscent of the requirement for the 'gustatory receptor' Gr28b in warmth-avoidance (Ni, 2013). Although this study shows that IR25a-expressing leg neurons are capable of sensing temperature and mediating temperature entrainment, it is possible that this receptor has a similar role elsewhere in the peripheral nervous system. IR25a responds to small temperature changes and it is proposed that the fly continuously integrates temperature signals received from multiple ChO across the whole body for synchronization of the clock. This potential reliance on weakly responding temperature receptors might explain why the Drosophila circadian clock is insensitive to brief temperature pulses, which could help maintain synchronized clock function in natural conditions of rapid and large temperature fluctuations (Chen, 2015).

The ionotropic receptors IR21a and IR25a mediate cool sensing in Drosophila

Animals rely on highly sensitive thermoreceptors to seek out optimal temperatures, but the molecular mechanisms of thermosensing are not well understood. The Dorsal Organ Cool Cells (DOCCs) of the Drosophila larva are a set of exceptionally thermosensitive neurons critical for larval cool avoidance. This study shows that DOCC cool-sensing is mediated by Ionotropic Receptors (IRs), a family of sensory receptors widely studied in invertebrate chemical sensing. Two IRs, IR21a and IR25a, are required to mediate DOCC responses to cooling and are required for cool avoidance behavior. Furthermore, ectopic expression of IR21a was found to confer cool-responsiveness in an Ir25a-dependent manner, suggesting an instructive role for IR21a in thermosensing. Together, these data show that IR family receptors can function together to mediate thermosensation of exquisite sensitivity (Ni, 2016).

These data demonstrate that the ionotropic receptors IR21a and IR25a have critical roles in thermosensation in Drosophila, mediating cool detection by the larval dorsal organ cool cells (DOCCs) and the avoidance of cool temperatures. Combinations of IRs have been previously found to contribute to a wide range of chemosensory responses, including the detection of acids and amines. These findings extend the range of sensory stimuli mediated by these receptor combinations to cool temperatures. Interestingly, IR21a- and IR25a-dependent cool sensation appears independent of Brivido 1 and Brivido 2, two TRP channels implicated in cool sensing in the adult (Gallio, 2011; Ni, 2016 and references therein).

The precise nature of the molecular complexes that IRs form is not well understood. IR25a has been shown to act with other IRs in the formation of chemoreceptors, potentially as heteromers (Rytz, 2013). This precedent raises the appealing possibility that IR25a might form heteromeric thermoreceptors in combination with IR21a. However, an inability to readily reconstitute temperature-responsive receptor complexes in heterologous cells suggests that the mechanism by which these receptors contribute to cool responsiveness is likely to involve additional molecular cofactors. It is interesting to note that the range of cell types in which ectopic IR21a expression confers cool-sensitivity is so far restricted to neurons that already respond to temperature. This observation suggests the existence of additional co-factors or structures in these thermosensory cells that are critical for IR21a and IR25a to mediate responses to temperature. All studies to date implicate IRs as receptors for sensory stimuli (Rytz, 2013), and misexpression studies are consistent with a similar role for Ir21a and IR25a in cool sensation. However, the possibility cannot be fully excluded that they could have indirect, and possibly separate, functions in this process, for example, in regulating the expression or function of an unidentified cool receptor. Interestingly, IR25a was recently implicated in warmth-responsive resetting of the circadian clock, and suggested to confer warmth-sensitivity on its own, without the co-expression of other IRs (Chen, 2015). The ability of IR25a to serve as a warmth receptor on its own would be a surprise given both its broad expression and its established role as an IR co-receptor (Abuin, 2011). As IR25a misexpression only slightly enhanced the thermosensitivity of an already warmth-responsive neuron (Chen, 2015), this raises the alternative possibility that (analogous to cool-sensing) IR25a acts not on its own, but rather as a co-receptor with other IRs involved in warmth-sensing (Ni, 2016).

While the present study focuses on the role of IR21a and IR25a in larval thermosensation, it is interesting to note that the expression of both IR21a and IR25a has been detected in the thermoreceptors of the adult arista (Benton, 2009). Thus, related mechanisms could contribute to thermosensory responses not only in the DOCCs, but also in other cellular contexts and life stages. Moreover, the presence of orthologs of IR21a and IR25a across a range of insects (Croset, 2010) raises the possibility that these IRs, along other members of the IR family, constitute a family of deeply-conserved thermosensors (Ni, 2016).

Molecular basis of fatty acid taste in Drosophila

Behavioral studies have established that Drosophila appetitive taste responses towards fatty acids are mediated by sweet sensing Gustatory Receptor Neurons (GRNs). This study shows that sweet GRN activation requires the function of the Ionotropic Receptor genes IR25a, IR76b and IR56d. The former two IR genes are expressed in several neurons per sensillum, while IR56d expression is restricted to sweet GRNs. Importantly, loss of appetitive behavioral responses to fatty acids in IR25a and IR76b mutant flies can be completely rescued by expression of respective transgenes in sweet GRNs. Interestingly, appetitive behavioral responses of wild type flies to hexanoic acid reach a plateau at ~1%, but decrease with higher concentration, a property mediated through IR25a/IR76b independent activation of bitter GRNs. With previous report on sour taste, these studies suggest that IR-based receptors mediate different taste qualities through cell-type specific IR subunits (Ahn, 2017).

IR genes have emerged as a second large gene family encoding chemoreceptors in insects. In the Drosophila olfactory system, IRs function as multimeric receptors in coeloconic olfactory sensory neurons (OSN) and are thought to sense volatile carboxylic acids, amines and aldehydes. Expression analyses have shown that each coeloconic OSN expresses up to four IR genes, including high levels of either IR8a or IR25a. IR25a and IR8a are distinct from other IRs in that they are more conserved to each other and iGluRs, and they share a long amino terminal domain absent in all other IRs. These observations, along with functional analyses of basiconic olfactory neurons that express combinations of IR genes, led to a model in which IR based olfactory receptors are tetrameric complexes thought to consist of up to three different subunits that contain at least one core unit (IR8a or IR25a) and two additional IRs that determine ligand binding specificity. The findings presented in this paper expand this concept to taste receptors that sense fatty acids through the sweet GRNs found in tarsal taste sensilla (Ahn, 2017).

This analysis extends the multimodal role of IR25a and IR76b to the taste systems. Consistent with gene expression arrays, this paper shows that up to three GRNs, including many sweet and bitter GRNs, co-express IR25a and IR76b. Functional studies have established a novel role for these two IR proteins in fatty acid taste, which revealed that these two subunits are not only critically important to elicit Proboscis Extension Reflex (PER) responses in flies when challenged with fatty acids, but are also necessary for fatty acid induced Ca2+ increases in tarsal sweet GRNs. Based on these findings and with consideration of their established role in other sensory systems, it is proposed that IR25a and IR76b play central roles in sweet GRNs in a multimeric receptor complex for initiating appetitive taste behavior to these chemicals. Intriguingly, both genes are also co-expressed in two other GRNs of most tarsal taste sensilla, strongly arguing for additional taste functions. While the subset of tarsal bitter GRNs activated by hexanoic acid does not require either gene, the third GRN (the sour GRN) is narrowly tuned to acids in an IR25a/IR76b dependent manner. These observations suggest that modality specific IRs are likely expressed in a cell-type specific fashion whereby they complement IR25a/IR76b to function as either a fatty acid or a sour taste receptor. Indeed, the screen identified IR56d, a gene that is expressed in sweet GRNs of tarsal taste sensilla, as a likely candidate encoding an IR subunit specific for a fatty acid taste receptor. It remains to be seen whether IR25a, IR76b and IR56d comprise all subunits that constitute this receptor or whether yet additional IRs are necessary to mediate responses to these chemicals (Ahn, 2017).

The fact that different food chemicals can activate a single class of neurons raises the question how flies discriminate between sugars and fatty acids. First, the difference is noted in sensitivity of appetitive GRNs to sugars and fatty acids, respectively: The most responsive GRN for sugars is the one associated with the 5v sensilla, followed by that with the 5s and finally the 5b sensilla, while the responsiveness for fatty acids is the reverse (5b > 5s > 5v). Second, fatty acids induces weaker PER responses from stimulation of the labial palps as opposed to tarsi, while sugars induce equally strong PER responses from stimulation of either taste organ. Third, at least some fatty acids activate bitter GRNs, and hence, generate more complex activation patterns in the brain than sugars, which are not known to activate neurons other than sweet GRNs. These properties may provide a rationale for differential coding of these two classes of chemicals in the brain. Finally, sugars but not fatty acids are soluble in water, and hence, the specific solvents in which these chemicals are presented provides different textural quality, which was recently shown to play a role in taste perception (Ahn, 2017).

NorpA, which encodes a phospholipase C (PLC), plays a critical role in sweet GRNs for appetitive feeding responses to fatty acids, but it is dispensable for behavioral responses to sugars. This study found that its absence also selectively abolishes Ca2+ responses to fatty acids, but not sugars, in sweet cells. NorpA is known for its role as downstream effector of G-protein coupled receptors in the fly's visual system, but interestingly it is also required for olfactory responses in neurons of the maxillary palps, which express ORs that are thought to function as ligand-gated ion channels. It is noted that fatty acid taste in mammals is in part mediated by two G-protein coupled receptors, GPR40 and GPR120, and that one of these (GPR120) was found to signal through a phospholipase C. Thus, future studies will be necessary to gain insights for how PLC mediates chemosensory responses through ORs and the phylogenetically unrelated IRs (Ahn, 2017).

Multimeric IR based receptors were recently shown to be required in non-chemosensory processes. Specifically, Dorsal Organ Cool Cells (DOCCs) located in the larval brain, express and require the function of three IRs (IR21a IR25a and IR93a), thereby allowing larvae to avoid temperatures below ~20°C. Similarly, two sets of cells in the antennal sacculus of adult flies, requiring the functions of IR25a and IR93a and either IR40a or IR68a, were shown to mediate a fly's preferred humidity environment, which is generally in the dry range, but is also dependent on the fly's hydration state. Intriguingly, these non-chemosensory IR complexes share a common theme with the fatty acid and carboxylic acid taste receptors in that they all require a core unit (IR25a) and two additional IRs that mediate specificity for a particular stimulus type (i.e., temperature, humidity, fat, acid) (Ahn, 2017).

An IR76b based sodium channel and an IR76b based amino acid receptor appear to lack an obligate core unit (IR25a or IR8a) found in olfactory receptors or fatty acid and carboxylic acid taste receptors. The IR76b sodium channel mediates salt responses in a heterologous systems independently of any other IRs, while a proposed multimeric IR76b containing receptor mediates amino acids taste in wild type and IR25a mutant flies (IR8a is not expressed in taste neurons). It will be interesting to elucidate the compositions of complete IR based amino acid and sour taste receptors, and (with regard of amino acid receptors) to identify the neurons that mediate this taste modality (Ahn, 2017).

Functional architecture of olfactory ionotropic glutamate receptors

Ionotropic glutamate receptors (iGluRs) are ligand-gated ion channels that mediate chemical communication between neurons at synapses. A variant iGluR subfamily, the Ionotropic Receptors (IRs), was recently proposed to detect environmental volatile chemicals in olfactory cilia. This study elucidate how these peripheral chemosensors have evolved mechanistically from their iGluR ancestors. Using a Drosophila model, IRs were demonstrated act in combinations of up to three subunits, comprising individual odor-specific receptors and one or two broadly expressed coreceptors. Heteromeric IR complex formation is necessary and sufficient for trafficking to cilia and mediating odor-evoked electrophysiological responses in vivo and in vitro. IRs display heterogeneous ion conduction specificities related to their variable pore sequences, and divergent ligand-binding domains function in odor recognition and cilia localization. These results provide insights into the conserved and distinct architecture of these olfactory and synaptic ion channels and offer perspectives into the use of IRs as genetically encoded chemical sensors (Abuin, 2011).

'Chemosensory synapses' between the environment and sensory neurons have been proposed as novel models to characterize mechanisms of neuronal activation and regulation by external stimuli. The IRs provide an intriguing example of molecular homology between peripheral sensory and postsynaptic receptors, and suggested the comparison of the conserved and divergent properties of these olfactory receptors to their iGluR ancestors (Abuin, 2011).

Cross-species analyses have demonstrated that IR25a is the 'ancestral' IR, as orthologs of this gene are expressed in chemosensory neurons in insects, nematode worms, and mollusks (Croset, 2010). By contrast, IR8a is a recently evolved, insect-specific duplicate of IR25a, although it retains a similar domain organization and sequence identity to iGluRs (Croset, 2010). The chemosensory role of IR25a in the common protostome ancestor is unknown, but it is attractive to suggest that it initially retained function as a glutamate-sensing receptor in the distal dendritic membranes of peripheral sensory neurons, analogous to the role of iGluRs in postsynaptic membranes of interneurons. Subsequent expansion of the IR repertoire may have allowed specialization of IR8a and IR25a as coreceptors acting in conjunction with more divergent odor-specific IRs. The dedication of these relatively slowly evolving members of the IR repertoire as a structural core of heteromeric IR complexes may help maintain the central function of these receptors as ligand-gated cation channels (Abuin, 2011).

Analysis of IR8a suggests that one specific function of the coreceptors may be to link IR complexes to the cilia transport pathway through their intracellular cytoplasmic tail, similar to the role of this region in coupling iGluRs to the postsynaptic transport machinery. Conserved motifs for subcellular targeting are not apparent between iGluRs and IR8a or IR25a, perhaps reflecting the novel signals required to localize IRs to specialized sensory cilia membranes. The maintenance of LBDs in coreceptor IRs raises the possibility that these proteins still bind ligands. Mutational analysis of IR8a argues that glutamate is very unlikely to be recognized by its LBD and suggests that this domain serves in complex localization rather than peripheral ligand responses. Notably, LBD mutations in certain Kainate receptors also reduce cell-surface expression in cultured cells. While IR8a (and IR25a) may associate with unknown ligands important for trafficking, a model is favored in which the conformation of coreceptor LBDs contributes to a scaffold for correct assembly of an IR complex to ensure only functional heteromers reach sensory cilia (Abuin, 2011).

In contrast to IR8a and IR25a, evolution of odor-specific IRs, such as IR84a and IR75a, was accompanied by a significant reduction in the structural complexity, as these proteins lack an ATD and bear only short, and apparently dispensable, cytosolic C termini. Divergent LBDs and pore filters in these proteins appear to confer specificity of odor recognition and ion conduction properties of IR-receptor complexes, respectively. Traces of ancestral glutamate-binding mechanisms are detectable, however, as it was shown that a glutamate-conjugating arginine is conserved and essential in IR84a for recognition of its odor ligand, phenylacetaldehyde. Odor-specific IR sequences may provide a valuable source of natural (and functional) 'site-directed mutants' to understand how the ion conduction and other properties of these ligand-gated ion channels are specified at the molecular level (Abuin, 2011).

Reconstitution of olfactory responses using a combination of three distinct IRs (IR25a, IR76a, and IR76b) highlights a further level of sophistication in how these proteins assemble into functional odor-sensing complexes. While IR76a is very likely to define ligand-specificity, the precise contributions of IR25a and a second putative coreceptor, IR76b, have not yet been resolved. It is possible that IR76b, which is more closely related to odor-specific IRs than to IR25a or IR8a, recognizes an unknown chemical ligand, whose copresence with phenylethyl amine in an odor blend could lead to synergistic or diminished neuronal responsiveness. Further variations in IR complexes are apparent. For example, IR25a is likely to have IR76b-independent roles as a coreceptor for sacculus and aristal odor-specific IRs, as the latter receptor is not expressed in these structures (Benton, 2009). Moreover, the ammonia receptor in ac1 is independent of both IR8a and IR25a. Thus, while OR-expressing neurons in vertebrates and insects encode odor stimuli through the activity of singularly expressed odor-specific receptors, the IRs appear to function in 'combinatorial codes' within individual OSNs. These may define unique ligand sensitivities and signaling dynamics akin to the heteromer-specific properties of iGluRs in synaptic localization and signaling. In contrast to iGluRs, however, IRs do not appear to depend upon additional accessory proteins, such as TARPs, for cell surface expression or function (Abuin, 2011).

Olfactory receptor repertoires have long attracted the attention of molecular, structural, and evolutionary biologists interested in the outstanding problems of odor recognition specificity and functional adaptability of these rapidly evolving proteins. While ever-expanding numbers of OR genes are being identified in genome sequences, progress in understanding of the functional properties of the corresponding proteins has been relatively slow. Vertebrate ORs are notoriously difficult to express in experimentally amenable heterologous systems, although recent identification in mammals of accessory factors that enhance their expression and/or function have begun facilitating the matching of odors to receptors. More challengingly, their seven transmembrane domain organization has eluded crystallization, obliging experimental probing of the odor-binding site to be guided by bioinformatic and modeling approaches (Abuin, 2011).

In insects, in vivo analyses of ORs have assigned ligands to a large fraction of this repertoire. Similar to IRs, odor-specific ORs function with a common coreceptor OR83b, which has an essential role in cilia targeting in vivo. Detailed understanding of insect ORs has, however, been hampered by the lack of homology of these polytopic membrane proteins to known receptors. Although initially assumed to be GPCRs, more recent analyses suggest these receptors function at least in part as odor-gated ion channels (Abuin, 2011).

In the face of these challenges, it is proposed that this comprehensive functional analysis of the IRs now establishes these proteins as an attractive model olfactory receptor repertoire to determine how diverse molecular recognition and signaling properties have evolved and contribute to odor perception in vivo. The clear modular organization of the IRs offers the possibility to selectively manipulate the localization, ligand recognition, and signaling properties of these receptors. Perhaps most significantly, the amenability of the iGluR LBD to crystallographic analysis suggests that atomic-resolution visualization of odor/IR interactions will also be feasible, which would provide important insights into how olfactory receptors achieve their diverse ligand specificity (Abuin, 2011).

Finally, definition of the molecular constituents of functional IR complexes in heterologous cells lays the foundation for the use of these receptors as unique types of genetically encoded chemical sensors. Although the LBDs of iGluRs are well described and their potential as targets for directed modifications already demonstrated through the generation of a light-activated iGluR, this class of ion channel has been surprisingly underexploited as a tool to couple recognition of different types of chemicals with cellular physiological responses. The existence of many hundreds of divergent IRs of presumed distinct specificity reveals a natural exploitation of this ligand-gated ion channel for chemical sensing. The molecular properties of IRs uncovered in this study provides a basis for their rational modification to generate custom-designed chemoreceptors of desired specificity. Such sensors could offer invaluable tools as genetically encoded neuronal activators or inhibitors as well as have broad practical applications, for example, in environmental pollutant detection or clinical diagnosis (Abuin, 2011).

Humidity sensing in Drosophila

Environmental humidity influences the fitness and geographic distribution of all animals. Insects in particular use humidity cues to navigate the environment, and previous work suggests the existence of specific sensory mechanisms to detect favorable humidity ranges. Yet, the molecular and cellular basis of humidity sensing (hygrosensation) remains poorly understood. This study describes genes and neurons necessary for hygrosensation in the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster. It was found that members of the Drosophila genus display species-specific humidity preferences related to conditions in their native habitats. Using a simple behavioral assay, it was found that the ionotropic receptors IR40a, IR93a, and IR25a are all required for humidity preference in D. melanogaster. Yet, whereas IR40a is selectively required for hygrosensory responses, IR93a and IR25a mediate both humidity and temperature preference. Consistent with this, the expression of IR93a and IR25a includes thermosensory neurons of the arista. In contrast, IR40a is excluded from the arista but is expressed (and required) in specialized neurons innervating pore-less sensilla of the sacculus, a unique invagination of the third antennal segment. Indeed, calcium imaging showed that IR40a neurons directly respond to changes in humidity, and IR40a knockdown or IR93a mutation reduces their responses to stimuli. Taken together, these results suggest that the preference for a specific humidity range depends on specialized sacculus neurons, and that the processing of environmental humidity can happen largely in parallel to that of temperature (Enjin, 2016).

Due to their small size and low heat capacity, insects are at constant risk of desiccation. As a result, they have evolved uniquely sensitive receptor systems to sense and respond to changes in the amount of water vapor in the air. This study describes genes and neurons necessary for hygrosensory responses in Drosophila. The work identifies sacculus neurons innervating chambers I and II as essential players in the behavioral responses to environmental humidity. These neurons appear to co-express IR25a, IR93a, and IR40a but, whereas IR25a and IR93a are also required for thermal preference, IR40a is uniquely important for hygrosensory responses. Genetic labeling of IR40a-expressing neurons also allowed tracking of their projections to the brain and identification of a unique glomerular structure (the Arm) that responds to specific changes in external humidity, i.e., 'dry-air' stimuli (Enjin, 2016).

Work in other insects suggests that the neural response to dry air could be mediated by evaporative cooling (as in man-made evaporation detectors, or psychrometers). Yet, the poor thermal sensitivity of IR40a neurons targeting the Arm (and their unchanged responses to cooling in IR40aRNAi) seems to disfavor this model. Furthermore, sensilla responding to changes in humidity have been electrophysiologically characterized in a number of insects, and typically consist of a 'dry cell' and a 'moist cell' (i.e., activated by humid air) housed in the same sensillum together with a 'cold cell.' This study identifies a dry-cell type associated with a cold-responding one in the sacculus. This indicates that hygrosensilla may share a common organization across insect groups (Enjin, 2016).

These results reveal some of the cellular substrates and molecular transducers that allow flies to detect changes in humidity. Interestingly, some of the key molecules described seem to be shared between thermosensory and hygrosensory neurons, and yet thermal preference and humidity preference are mediated by independent cellular substrates. Hence, the two sensory systems can function largely in parallel in Drosophila, perhaps providing a mechanism to independently modulate the behavioral responses to each of these two key environmental parameters (Enjin, 2016).


Search PubMed for articles about Drosophila Ir25a

Abuin, L., Bargeton, B., Ulbrich, M. H., Isacoff, E. Y., Kellenberger, S. and Benton, R. (2011). Functional architecture of olfactory ionotropic glutamate receptors. Neuron 69: 44-60. PubMed ID: 21220098

Ahn, J. E., Chen, Y. and Amrein, H. (2017). Molecular basis of fatty acid taste in Drosophila. Elife 6. PubMed ID: 29231818

Benton, R., Vannice, K. S., Gomez-Diaz, C. and Vosshall, L. B. (2009). Variant ionotropic glutamate receptors as chemosensory receptors in Drosophila. Cell 136: 149-162. PubMed ID: 19135896

Chen, C., Buhl, E., Xu, M., Croset, V., Rees, J. S., Lilley, K. S., Benton, R., Hodge, J. J. and Stanewsky, R. (2015). Drosophila Ionotropic Receptor 25a mediates circadian clock resetting by temperature. Nature 527: 516-520. PubMed ID: 26580016

Croset, V., Rytz, R., Cummins, S. F., Budd, A., Brawand, D., Kaessmann, H., Gibson, T. J. and Benton, R. (2010). Ancient protostome origin of chemosensory ionotropic glutamate receptors and the evolution of insect taste and olfaction. PLoS Genet 6: e1001064. PubMed ID: 20808886

Enjin, A., Zaharieva, E.E., Frank, D.D., Mansourian, S., Suh, G.S., Gallio, M. and Stensmyr, M.C. (2016). Humidity sensing in Drosophila. Curr Biol [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 27161501

Gallio, M., Ofstad, T. A., Macpherson, L. J., Wang, J. W. and Zuker, C. S. (2011). The coding of temperature in the Drosophila brain. Cell 144: 614-624. PubMed ID: 21335241

Ni, L., Bronk, P., Chang, E. C., Lowell, A. M., Flam, J. O., Panzano, V. C., Theobald, D. L., Griffith, L. C. and Garrity, P. A. (2013). A gustatory receptor paralogue controls rapid warmth avoidance in Drosophila. Nature 500: 580-584. PubMed ID: 23925112

Ni, L., Klein, M., Svec, K. V., Budelli, G., Chang, E. C., Ferrer, A. J., Benton, R., Samuel, A. D. and Garrity, P. A. (2016). The ionotropic receptors IR21a and IR25a mediate cool sensing in Drosophila. Elife 5. PubMed ID: 27126188

Rytz, R., Croset, V. and Benton, R. (2013). Ionotropic receptors (IRs): chemosensory ionotropic glutamate receptors in Drosophila and beyond. Insect Biochem Mol Biol 43: 888-897. PubMed ID: 23459169

Biological Overview

date revised: 25 April 2018

Home page: The Interactive Fly © 2011 Thomas Brody, Ph.D.