Behavioral characterization of attractin, a water-borne peptide pheromone in the genus Aplysia

Sherry D. Painter, Bret Clough, Sara Black, Gregg T. Nagle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Pheromones play a significant role in coordinating reproductive activity in many animals, including opisthobranch molluscs of the genus Aplysia. Although solitary during most of the year, these simultaneous hermaphrodites gather into breeding aggregations during the reproductive season. The aggregations contain both mating and egg-laying animals and are associated with masses of egg cordons. The egg cordons are a source of pheromones that attract other Aplysia to the area, reduce their latency to mating, and induce egg laying. One of these water-borne egg cordon pheromones ("attractin") has been characterized and shown to be attractive in T-maze assays. Attractin is the first water-borne peptide pheromone characterized in invertebrates. In the current studies, behavioral assays were used to better characterize the attraction, and to examine whether attractin can induce mating. Although the two activities could be related (i.e., attraction occurring because animals were looking for a partner), this was not tested. T-maze assays showed that attractin works as part of a bouquet of odors: the peptide is attractive only when Aplysia brasiliana is part of the stimulus. The animal does not need to be a conspecific, perhaps explaining why multiple species may be associated with one aggregation. Native and recombinant attractin are equally attractive, verifying that N-glycosylation at residue 8 is not required for attraction. Mating studies showed that both native and recombinant attractin reduce the latency to mating. The effects are larger when hermaphroditic mating is considered: in addition to reducing latency, attractin doubles the number of pairs mating as hermaphrodites. The effect may result from attractin stimulating both animals to mate as males and would be consistent with behaviors previously seen in the T-maze. Attractin may thus be contributing to the formation of copulatory chains and rings seen in aggregations in the field. These results may be interpreted in two ways: (1) attractin has multiple activities that contribute to the establishment and maintenance of the aggregation; or (2) the induced desire to mate may make attractin attractive when it is presented in conjunction with an animal. In either case, the results open the door for cellular and molecular studies of mechanism of action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-25
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Bulletin
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Behavioral characterization of attractin, a water-borne peptide pheromone in the genus Aplysia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this