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Sexual frustration leads to stress in fruit flies

The research insights of Yulia Rivkin from the Faculty of Life Sciences in Bar-Ilan open up an opportunity for in-depth research into the effect of stress on the nervous system

Fruit flies mate. Illustration: depositphotos.com
Fruit flies mate. Illustration: depositphotos.com

Repeated mating failures among fruit flies create stress and frustration and negatively affect their resistance to physical challenges. This is what a study led by Dr. Yulia Rivkin from the Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan University, published in the journal PLOS Genetics, reveals. Prof. Galit Shochat-Opir, Deputy Dean The Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan University and the head of the research group, states that the insights from the research open up opportunities for a more in-depth study of social stress in a model of an organism with a simple nervous system that is particularly suitable for genetic editing.

"The results of the study show for the first time that the fruit flies experience social pressure when their attempts to mate fail again and again," notes Prof. Shohat-Opir. "The flies' response is mediated by a brain signaling system involving neuropeptide F that plays a role in reward and stress responses in other organisms." 

In the current study, the researchers compared the behavior of male fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) that experienced repeated sexual rejection, with the behavior of recently mated males and males kept in isolation. The study found that rejected males were more active, more aggressive and less social towards other males, in a manner indicative of stress. Rejected males were also less resistant to two other types of stress, such as starvation and exposure to a toxic herbicide that causes oxidative damage.

Animals are motivated to take actions that improve their survival and reproduction through reward systems in the brain, and on the other hand, failure in these actions produces stiffness. Reward systems have been studied extensively in the past, but previous research has focused less on how animals respond to failure.

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