Welcome to the Pikielny Lab!

In the Genetics Department,    Geisel School of Medicine  At Dartmouth


Dartmouth Neuroscience Institute 

Contact Claudio Pikielny

Pikielny Lab People:

 Selected Publications 


What is the biological basis for complex behaviors?

We study the response of Drosophila to pheromones and take advantage of the many molecular genetic tools available in this model system. Currently, our lab is focusing on two very different types of genes that play a role in this response.


CheBs are novel genes that play an important role in modulating gustatory response to pheromones (3, 4, 5).

We have discovered a family of twelve Drosophila genes, the CheBs, several of which are only expressed in a few taste hairs of males, suggesting that they may play a role in gustatory response to female pheromones.  Expression of CheB42a in particular, is restricted to the sheath cells that surround a set of gustatory neurons known to be involved in response to pheromones.  Indeed, we have now shown that males with mutations in the CheB42agene have a very specific defect in their response to hydrocarbon pheromones emitted by females: they attempt to copulate earlier and more frequently than normal males.  Circumstantial evidence suggests that CheB42a and other CheBs may act by binding to pheromone molecules and modulating their interactions with transmembrane receptors.  We are currently testing this hypothesis.


Two DEG/ENaC sodium channel subunits function specifically in gustatory detection of pheromones (1, 2, 6).

DEG/ENaC sodium channels are involved in a variety of biologically and clinically important functions, including sensory perception of touch and pain, salty and sour taste, memory formation, regulation of blood pressure and neuronal death following stroke.  We have found that two sodium channel subunits of the DEG/ENaC family, Ppk25 and Nope are required inDrosophila males’ gustatory neurons that specifically detect female pheromones.  Furthermore, Ppk25 and Nope are coexpressed in the same pheromone-sensing neurons and interact with each other in vitro, suggesting that they function as subunits of a common heteromeric DEG/ENaC channel.  This Ppk25/Nope channel may be gated directly or indirectly by pheromones; alternatively, it may control the excitability of pheromone-sensing neurons.

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1.      Liu, T., E. Starostina, V. Vijayan, and C. W. Pikielny. 2012. Two Drosophila DEG/ENaC Channel Subunits Have Distinct Functions in Gustatory Neurons That Activate Male Courtship. J Neurosci 32:11879-11889. Link in Pubmed

2    Starostina, E., Liu, T., Vijayan, V., Zheng, Z., Siwicki, K.K., and Pikielny, C.W. (2012). A Drosophila DEG/ENaC Subunit Functions Specifically in Gustatory Neurons Required for Male Courtship Behavior. J Neurosci 32, 4665-4674.  Link in Pubmed

3.     Pikielny, C.W. (2010). Drosophila CheB proteins involved in gustatory detection of pheromones are related to a human neurodegeneration factor.  In Vitam Horm, G. Litwak, ed., pp. 273-287.Link in Pubmed

4    Starostina, E., Xu, A., Lin, H., and Pikielny, C.W. (2009). A Drosophila protein family implicated in pheromone perception is related to Tay-Sachs GM2-activator protein. J Biol Chem 284, 585-594. Link in Pubmed

5.     Park, S.K., Mann, K.J., Lin, H., Starostina, E., Kolski-Andreaco, A., and Pikielny, C.W. (2006). A Drosophila protein specific to pheromone-sensing gustatory hairs delays males' copulation attempts. Curr Biol 16, 1154-1159. Link in Pubmed

6.     Lin, H., Mann, K.J., Starostina, E., Kinser, R.D., and Pikielny, C.W. (2005). A Drosophila DEG/ENaC channel subunit is required for male response to female pheromones. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 102, 12831-12836. Link in Pubmed

7.  Pikielny, C. W.  (2012) Channeling Love: DEG/ENaC channels involved in pheromone perception.  Science Signaling (in press).

Other Fly Labs at Dartmouth:

Yashi Ahmed

Sharon Bickel

Giovanni Bosco

Patrick Dolph


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Subpages (1): Pikielny Lab People