Meeting Abstract

S7.2-1  Monday, Jan. 6 10:00  Wasp Voodoo Rituals, Venom-Cocktails and the Zombification of Cockroach host. LIBERSAT, F.*; GAL, R; Ben Gurion University

Much like humans, animals may choose to initiate behavior based on their "internal state" rather than as a response to external stimuli alone. The neuronal underpinnings responsible for generating this ‘internal state’, however, remain elusive. 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 neurotoxic venom cocktail directly inside the prey’s cerebral ganglia to apparently ‘hijack its free will’. Although not paralyzed, the stung cockroach becomes a living yet docile ‘zombie’ incapable of self-initiating walking or escape running. We demonstrate that the venom selectively depresses the cockroach’s motivation or ‘drive’ to initiate and maintain walking-related behaviors, rather than inducing an overall decrease in arousal or a ‘sleep-like’ state. Such a decrease in the drive for walking can be attributed to a decrease in neuronal activity in a small region of the cockroach cerebral nervous system, the sub-esophageal ganglion (SEG). Specifically, we have used behavioral, neuro-pharmacological and electrophysiological methods to show that artificial focal injection of crude milked venom or procaine into the SEG of non-stung cockroaches decreases spontaneous and evoked walking, as seen with naturally-stung cockroaches. Moreover, spontaneous and evoked neuronal spiking activity in the SEG, recorded with an extracellular bipolar microelectrode, is markedly decreased in stung cockroaches as compared with non-stung controls. 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.