Divergence of species-specific protein sex pheromone blends in two related, nonhybridizing newts (Salamandridae)

Dag Treer, Margo Maex, Ines Van Bocxlaer, Paul Proost, Franky Bossuyt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


In animals that use chemical communication during courtship and reproduction, speciation is often associated with divergence of their sex pheromones. In multicomponent pheromone systems, divergence can be obtained either by adding or deleting components, or by altering the relative contribution of individual components to the mixture. Protein pheromone systems can additionally evolve by amino acid sequence divergence to produce pheromones with a species-specific effect. The sodefrin precursor-like factor (SPF) pheromone system, a blend of proteins that essentially enhances receptivity in salamanders, has had a long and dynamic evolution of gene duplications, but the mechanisms that govern interspecific divergence and the role they play in reproductive isolation remain elusive. Here, we use transcriptomics and proteomics to characterize the SPF protein repertoire of the alpine newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris), and compare it to the previously identified repertoire of SPF proteins of the palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus), a related but nonhybridizing species. Subsequent phylogenetic analyses indicate that, despite the availability of multiple SPF gene copies, both species predominantly express the samesubset of orthologs. Our study demonstrates that species specificity in the SPF protein pheromone system can be established by gradual sequence divergence of the same set of proteins alone.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)508-519
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number2
Early online date31 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • chemical communication
  • protein pheromone
  • salamander
  • sex pheromone
  • sodefrin precursor-like factor (SPF)
  • species specificity

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