Ants are known to use a colony-specific blend of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) as a pheromone to discriminate between nestmates and non-nestmates and the CHCs were sensed in the basiconic type of antennal sensilla (S. basiconica). To investigate the functional design of this type of antennal sensilla, we observed the ultra-structures at 2D and 3D in the Japanese carpenter ant, Camponotus japonicus, using a serial block-face scanning electron microscope (SBF-SEM), and conventional and high-voltage transmission electron microscopes. Based on the serial images of 352 cross sections of SBF-SEM, we reconstructed a 3D model of the sensillum revealing that each S. basiconica houses > 100 unbranched dendritic processes, which extend from the same number of olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs). The dendritic processes had characteristic beaded-structures and formed a twisted bundle within the sensillum. At the “beads,” the cell membranes of the processes were closely adjacent in the interdigitated profiles, suggesting functional interactions via gap junctions (GJs). Immunohistochemistry with anti-innexin (invertebrate GJ protein) antisera revealed positive labeling in the antennae of C. japonicus. Innexin 3, one of the five antennal innexin subtypes, was detected as a dotted signal within the S. basiconica as a sensory organ for nestmate recognition. These morphological results suggest that ORNs form an electrical network via GJs between dendritic processes. We were unable to functionally certify the electric connections in an olfactory sensory unit comprising such multiple ORNs; however, with the aid of simulation of a mathematical model, we examined the putative function of this novel chemosensory information network, which possibly contributes to the distinct discrimination of colony-specific blends of CHCs or other odor detection.
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