A wasp manipulates neuronal activity in the sub-esophageal ganglion to decrease the drive for walking in its cockroach prey Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Background: The parasitoid Jewel Wasp hunts cockroaches to serve as a live food supply for its offspring. The wasp stings the cockroach in the head and delivers a cocktail of neurotoxins directly inside the prey's cerebral ganglia. Although not paralyzed, the stung cockroach becomes a living yet docile 'zombie', incapable of self-initiating spontaneous or evoked walking. We show here that such neuro-chemical manipulation can be attributed to decreased neuronal activity in a small region of the cockroach cerebral nervous system, the sub-esophageal ganglion (SEG). A decrease in descending permissive inputs from this ganglion to thoracic central pattern generators decreases the propensity for walking-related behaviors. Methodology and principal findings: We have used behavioral, neuro-pharmacological and electrophysiological methods to show that: (1) Surgically removing the cockroach SEG prior to wasp stinging prolongs the duration of the sting 5-fold, suggesting that the wasp actively targets the SEG during the stinging sequence; (2) injecting a sodium channel blocker, procaine, into the SEG of non-stung cockroaches reversibly decreases spontaneous and evoked walking, suggesting that the SEG plays an important role in the up-regulation of locomotion; (3) artificial focal injection of crude milked venom into the SEG of non-stung cockroaches decreases spontaneous and evoked walking, as seen with naturally-stung cockroaches; and (4) spontaneous and evoked neuronal spiking activity in the SEG, recorded with an extracellular bipolar microelectrode, is markedly decreased in stung cockroaches versus non-stung controls. Conclusions and significance: We have identified the neuronal substrate responsible for the venom-induced manipulation of the cockroach's drive for walking. Our data strongly support previous findings suggesting a critical and permissive role for the SEG in the regulation of locomotion in insects. By injecting a venom cocktail directly into the SEG, the parasitoid Jewel Wasp selectively manipulates the cockroach's motivation to initiate walking without interfering with other non-related behaviors.

publication date

  • January 1, 2010