Virus infection modulates male sexual behaviour in Caenorhabditis elegans

Lisa van Sluijs, Jie Liu, Mels Schrama, Sanne van Hamond, Sophie P.J.M. Vromans, Marèl H. Scholten, Nika Žibrat, Joost A.G. Riksen, Gorben P. Pijlman, Mark G. Sterken, Jan E. Kammenga*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Mating dynamics follow from natural selection on mate choice and individuals maximizing their reproductive success. Mate discrimination reveals itself by a plethora of behaviours and morphological characteristics, each of which can be affected by pathogens. A key question is how pathogens affect mate choice and outcrossing behaviour. Here we investigated the effect of Orsay virus on the mating dynamics of the androdiecious (male and hermaphrodite) nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. We tested genetically distinct strains and found that viral susceptibility differed between sexes in a genotype-dependent manner with males of reference strain N2 being more resistant than hermaphrodites. Males displayed a constitutively higher expression of intracellular pathogen response (IPR) genes, whereas the antiviral RNAi response did not have increased activity in males. Subsequent monitoring of sex ratios over 10 generations revealed that viral presence can change mating dynamics in isogenic populations. Sexual attraction assays showed that males preferred mating with uninfected rather than infected hermaphrodites. Together our results illustrate for the first time that viral infection can significantly affect male mating choice and suggest altered mating dynamics as a novel cause benefitting outcrossing under pathogenic stress conditions in C. elegans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6776-6790
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number24
Early online date17 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • host–virus interactions
  • mating dynamics
  • transcriptomics
  • ERP130129
  • PRJEB45953
  • E-MTAB-9561
  • E-MTAB-10642


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