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Home page > Scientific Departments > Sensory ecology > Teams > Neuro-ethology of olfaction (NEO)

Neuro-ethology of olfaction (NEO)


Research themes

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Calcium activity maps in the antennal lobe in response to a volatile plant compound and to the sex pheromone (carte d’activité en imagerie calcique du lobe antennaire à un composé volatil de plante et à la phréromone)
N. Deisig©UMR7618

Our experimental and modelling studies aim at understanding the mechanisms involved in the recognition of the olfactory signal and its translation in a behavioural response adapted to the environment and the physiological state of insects.
These studies concern the processes of sensory coding, from the chemo-electrical transduction in the olfactory receptor neurones to its integration in the central nervous system by the neuronal network of the antennal lobe as well as the resulting oriented locomotor response.
We also analyse how insects respond to specific signals in a complex sensory environment (interactions of pheromones and plant volatile compounds) and the mechanisms of the modulation of the olfactory response, notably by steroid hormones involved in development.

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Reconstruction of the antennal lobe from a male moth (reconstruction d’un lobe antennaire de papillon)
S. Anton©UMR7618

We use complementary approaches including anatomy (quantitative neuroanatomy, intracellular stainings), molecular biology (cloning, in situ hybridization, RNA interference, heterologous expression), electrophysiology (extracellular, patch clamp in vivo and in vitro), imaging (calcium imaging), ethology (olfactometry, trajectometry, learning assays), biochemistry (immuno-dosage of steroids), physico-chemistry (gas chromatography coupled to behaviour) and modelling (statistical analyses, computer simulation, robotics) to study the functioning of neurones and neurone networks and modifications of this functioning (global change, pesticides, etc.).Various olfactometers, locomotion compensators and a wind tunnel are used to record and analyse insect behavior in response to odour signals.

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Patch clamp from an olfactory receptor neurone in vitro (patch clamp sur neurone récepteur olfactif in vitro)
P. Lucas©UMR7618

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Moth olfactory receptor neurones in primary culture (neurones récepteurs olfactifs de papillons en culture primaire)
P. Lucas©UMR7618

Our studies are carried out on three species of phytophagous insects.
Our main model is the moth sex pheromone communication with two Noctuidae Spodoptera littoralis and Agrotis ipsilon, because of its sensitivity, specificity and stereotyped behavioural responses involved.
Responses to the pheromone in interaction with plant volatiles are also studied in the context of an applied project, on the invasive weevil Rhynchophorus ferrugineus.

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A male moth needs to recognize the female-released sex pheromone among a complex background of odours which can also have a meaning for it (un papillon mâle doit détecter et discriminer la phéromone sexuelle émise par les femelles de son espèce au sein d’un mélange complexe d’odeurs qui peuvent également avoir pour lui une signification biologique)


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Moths can be trained to extend their proboscis in response to an odour (les papillons peuvent être entrainés à étendre leur proboscis en réponse à une odeur)
M. Renou©UMR7618


  • To study and model how the quality, intensity and time pattern of olfactory signals are encoded in the peripheral and central nervous system.
  • To decipher and model the signalling pathway of the olfactory transduction.
  • To study the mechanisms underlying plasticity linked to the physiological state.
  • To analyse interactions between odorants, in particular between pheromone and volatile plant compounds.
  • To better estimate the role of the olfactory environment in the modulation of long distance attraction in an applied perspective.

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Model of the insect transduction cascade (modèle de la cascade de transduction olfactive)
P. Lucas©UMR7618

Philippe LUCAS, INRA Senior scientist, NEO team leader