The neuropeptide eclosion hormone (EH) is a key regulator of insect ecdysis. We tested the role of the two EH-producing neurons in Drosophila by using an EH cell-specific enhancer to activate cell death genes reaper and head involution defective to ablate the EH cells. In the EH cell knockout flies, larval and adult ecdyses were disrupted, yet a third of the knockouts emerged as adults, demonstrating that EH has a significant but nonessential role in ecdysis. The EH cell knockouts had discrete behavioral deficits, including slow, uncoordinated eclosion and an insensitivity to ecdysis- triggering hormone. The knockouts lacked the lights-on eclosion response despite having a normal circadian eclosion rhythm. This study represents a novel approach to the dissection of neuropeptide regulation of a complex behavioral program.
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