Proc. Biol. Sci. 289 (1980) 20221115 [2022-08-10; online 2022-08-10]
General evolutionary theory predicts that individuals in low condition should invest less in sexual traits compared to individuals in high condition. Whether this positive association between condition and investment also holds between young (high condition) and senesced (low condition) individuals is however less clear, since elevated investment into reproduction may be beneficial when individuals approach the end of their life. To address how investment into sexual traits changes with age, we study genes with sex-biased expression in the brain, the tissue from which sexual behaviours are directed. Across two distinct populations of Drosophila melanogaster, we find that old brains display fewer sex-biased genes, and that expression of both male-biased and female-biased genes converges towards a sexually intermediate phenotype owing to changes in both sexes with age. We further find that sex-biased genes in general show heightened age-dependent expression in comparison to unbiased genes and that age-related changes in the sexual brain transcriptome are commonly larger in males than females. Our results hence show that ageing causes a desexualization of the fruit fly brain transcriptome and that this change mirrors the general prediction that low condition individuals should invest less in sexual phenotypes.