Sex pheromone in the moth Heliothis virescens is produced as a mixture of two pools: de novo and via precursor storage in glycerolipids
Most species of moths use a female-produced volatile sex pheromone, typically produced via de novo fatty acid synthesis in a specialized gland, for communication among mates. While de novo biosynthesis of pheromone (DNP) is rapid, suggesting transient precursor acids, substantial amounts of pheromone precursor (and other) acids are stored, predominantly in triacylglycerols in the pheromone gland. Whether these stored acids are converted to pheromone later or not has been the subject of some debate. Using a tracer/tracee approach, in which we fed female Heliothis virescens U-13C-glucose, we were able to distinguish two pools of pheromone, in which precursors were temporally separated (after and before feeding on labeled glucose): DNP synthesized from a mixed tracer/tracee acetyl CoA pool after feeding, and pheromone made from precursor acids primarily synthesized before feeding, which we call recycled precursor fat pheromone (RPP). DNP titer varied from high (during scotophase) to low (photophase) and with presence/absence of pheromone biosynthesis activating neuropeptide (PBAN), in accord with native pheromone titer previously observed. By contrast, RPP was constant throughout the photoperiod and did not change with PBAN presence/absence. The amount of RPP (6.3–10.3 ng/female) was typically much lower than that of DNP, especially during the scotophase (peak DNP, 105 ng/female). We propose an integral role for stored fats in pheromone biosynthesis, in which they are hydrolyzed and re-esterified throughout the photoperiod, with a small proportion of liberated precursor acyl CoAs being converted to pheromone. During the sexually active period, release of PBAN results in increased flux of glucose (from trehalose) and hydrolyzed acids entering the mitochondria, producing acetyl CoA precursor for de novo fat and pheromone biosynthesis.