Abigail Dove, Neuroscience

Sleep plasticity due to sexual experience in Drosophila melanogaster

Besides the ability of sleep to influence an organism’s waking behavior, wakeful experiences can alter the nature of subsequent sleep. This is nicely exemplified by the fruit fly, a species in which mating induces a weeklong reduction female in sleep that is believed to be mediated by sex peptide (SP), a molecule in male seminal fluid. The present study presents an alternative interpretation of the mechanism underlying these changes in fly sleep behavior. Surprisingly, the sleep reduction persisted in females mated to mutant males lacking SP, males lacking the entire class of seminal fluid proteins, and males lacking sperm entirely. The effect even persisted in females exposed to genitalia-less males who were unable to copulate, suggesting that some aspect of male-female social contact during courtship – and not mating itself – produces the alterations in female sleep behavior. Intriguingly, sleep appears to be plastic according to even the subtlest aspects of an organism’s sociosexual experience.