Regulation and significance of ecdysteroid titre fluctuations in lepidopterous larvae and pupae

František Sehnal, Peter Maróy, Jaroslava Malá

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The last larval moult of Galleria mellonella is induced by an elevation of ecdysteroid titre to more than 200 ng/g. After ecdysis the titre remains very low until 70 hr of the last-instar when a slight elevation in ecdysteroid concentration initiates the onset of metamorphosis. An ecdysteroid peak (275 ng/g), which occurs between 108 and 144 hr, is associated with wandering and cocoon spinning. Pupal ecdysis follows about 20 hr after a large ecdysteroid peak (780 ng/g) with a maximum in slowly-mobile prepupae (160 hr of the last larval instar). The ecdysteroid decrease between the two peaks coincides with the period when the larvae exposed to unfavourable conditions enter diapause. The pupal-adult moult is initiated by a high ecdysteroid peak (1500-2500 ng/g) in early pupae and imaginal cuticle is secreted in response to a smaller peak (ca. 500 ng/g) in the middle of pupal instar. Until early pupae, the ecdysteroid content is regulated by the prothoracic glands. In decapitated larvae the glands become spontaneously active after 30-40 days and the body titre of ecdysteroids undergoes an increase; the glands revert to inactivity when the insects accomplish secretion of pupal cuticle. A similar ecdysteroid increase occurs within 10 days when the decapitated larvae receive implants of brains releasing the prothoracicotropic neurohormone (PTTH). In either case, the pupation-inducing increase of ecdysteroids is 3 times higher than the large ecdysteroid peak in the last-instar of intact larvae. This indicates that the function of prothoracic glands in intact larvae is restrained, probably by the juvenile hormone (JH). Exogenous JH suppresses the spontaneous activation of the prothoracic glands in decapitated larvae and reduces the ecdysteroid concentration in those larvae (both decapitated and intact), whose glands were activated by PTTH. Furthermore, JH influences the PTTH release from the brain in situ: depending on JH concentration and the age and size of treated larvae, the PTTH liberation is either accelerated or delayed. Neither in G. mellonella larvae, nor in the diapausing pupae of Hyalophora cecropia and Celerio euphorbiae, does JH directly activate the prothoracic glands. It is suggested that the induction of the moult by JH in decerebrate insects, which has been observed in some species, is either due to indirect stimulation of ecdysteroid production or to increased sensitivity of target tissues to ecdysteroids. In G. mellonella, a moult occurs at a 5-15 times lower than usual ecdysteroid concentration when the last-instar larvae are exposed to JH.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-544
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Insect Physiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1981


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Insect Science

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