Odorant binding proteins (OBPs) are extracellular proteins localized to the chemosensory systems of most terrestrial species. OBPs are expressed by nonneuronal cells and secreted into the fluid bathing olfactory neuron dendrites. Several members have been shown to interact directly with odorants, but the significance of this is not clear. We show that the Drosophila OBP lush is completely devoid of evoked activity to the pheromone 11-cis vaccenyl acetate (VA), revealing that this binding protein is absolutely required for activation of pheromone-sensitive chemosensory neurons. lush mutants are also defective for pheromone-evoked behavior. Importantly, we identify a genetic interaction between lush and spontaneous activity in VA-sensitive neurons in the absence of pheromone. The defects in spontaneous activity and VA sensitivity are reversed by germline transformation with a lush transgene or by introducing recombinant LUSH protein into mutant sensilla. These studies directly link pheromone-induced behavior with OBP-dependent activation of a subset of olfactory neurons.
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