The hormonal coordination of behavior and physiology at adult ecdysis in Drosophila melanogaster

James D. Baker, Susan L. McNabb, James W. Truman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


In insects, ecdysis is thought to be controlled by the interaction between peptide hormones; in particular between ecdysis-triggering hormone (ETH) from the periphery and eclosion hormone (EH) and crustacean cardioactive peptide (CCAP) form the central nervous system. We examined the behavioral and physiological functions of the first two of these peptides in Drosophila melanogaster using wild-type flies and knockout flies that lacked EH neurons. We used ETH from Manduca sexta (MasETH) to induce premature ecdysis and compared the responses of the two types of flies. The final release of EH normally occurs approximately 40 min before ecdysis. It is correlated with cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) production in selected neurons and tracheae, by an elevation in the heart rate and by the filling of the new tracheae with air. Injection of developing flies with MasETH causes all these events to occur prematurely. In EH cell knockouts, none of these changes occurs in response to MasETH, and these flies show a permanent failure in tracheal filling. This failure can be overcome in the knockouts by injecting them with membrane-permeant analogs of cGMP, the second messenger for EH. The basis for the 40 min delay between EH release and the onset of ecdysis was examined by decapitating flies at various times relative to EH release. In flies that had already release EH, decapitation was always followed within 1 min by the start of ecdysis. Immediate ecdysis was never observed when the EH cell knockout flies were decapitated. We propose that EH activates both ventral central nervous system elements necessary for ecdysis (possibly the CCAP cells) and descending inhibitory neurons from the head. This descending inhibition establishes a delay in the onset of ecdysis that allows the completion of EH-activated physiological processes such as tracheal filling. A waning in the inhibition eventually allows ecdysis to begin 30-40 min later.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3037-3048
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Ecdysis-triggering hormone
  • Eclosion
  • Eclosion hormone
  • Hormone
  • Peptide
  • Trachea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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