org Interactive Fly, Drosophila Ecdysone receptor: Biological Overview | Evolutionary homologs | Regulation | Targets of Activity | Protein interactions | Developmental Biology | Effects of Mutation | References
Gene name - Ecdysone receptor

Synonyms -

Cytological map position - 42A

Function - Zinc finger transcription factor

Keywords: master regulator of molting

Symbol - EcR

FlyBase ID: FBgn0000546

Genetic map position - 2-{55.2}

Classification - nuclear receptor superfamily

Cellular location - nuclear

NCBI links: Precomputed BLAST | Entrez Gene

Recent literature
Romani, P., Gargiulo, G. and Cavaliere, V. (2015). The ecdysone receptor signalling regulates microvilli formation in follicular epithelial cells. Cell Mol Life Sci [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 26223269
Epithelial morphogenesis contributes greatly to the development and homeostasis of the organs and body parts. This study analysed the consequences of impaired Ecdysone receptor (EcR) signalling in the Drosophila follicular epithelium. Besides governing cell growth, the three EcR isoforms act redundantly in controlling follicle cell positioning. Flattening of the microvilli and an aberrant actin cytoskeleton arise from defective EcR signalling in follicle cells, and these defects impact on the organisation of the oocyte membrane. This signalling was found to govern a complex molecular network since its impairment affects key molecules as atypical protein kinase C and activated Moesin. Interestingly, the activity of the transcription factor Tramtrack69 isoform is required for microvilli and their actin core morphogenesis as well as for follicle cell positioning. In conclusion, these findings provide evidence of novel roles for EcR signalling and Tramtrack69 transcription factor in controlling stage-specific differentiation events that take place in the follicular epithelium.

Mansilla, A., Martín, F.A., Martín, D. and Ferrús, A. (2015). Ligand-independent requirements of steroid receptors EcR and USP for cell survival. Cell Death Differ [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 26250909
The steroid hormone ecdysone 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E) binds the heterodimer EcR/USP nuclear receptor to regulate target genes that elicit proliferation, cell death and differentiation during insect development. This study shows that the prothoracic gland (PG), the major steroid-producing organ of insect larvae, requires EcR and USP to survive in a critical period previous to metamorphosis, and that this requirement is 20E-independent. The cell death induced by the downregulation of these receptors involves the activation of the JNK-encoding basket gene and it can be rescued by upregulating EcR isoforms which are unable to respond to 20E. Also, while PG cell death prevents ecdysone production, blocking hormone synthesis or secretion in normal PG does not lead to cell death, demonstrating further the ecdysone-independent nature of the receptor-deprivation cell death. In contrast to PG cells, wing disc or salivary glands cells do not require these receptors for survival, revealing their cell and developmental time specificity. For exploring the potential use of this feature of steroid receptors in cancer, tumor overgrowth induced by altered yorkie signaling was assayed. This overgrowth is suppressed by EcR downregulation in PG, but not in wing disc, cells. The mechanism of all these cell death features is based on the transcriptional regulation of reaper. These novel and context-dependent functional properties for EcR and USP receptors may help to understand the heterogeneous responses to steroid-based therapies in human pathologies.

Mansilla, A., Martín, F.A., Martín, D. and Ferrús, A. (2015). Ligand-independent requirements of steroid receptors EcR and USP for cell survival. Cell Death Differ [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 26250909
The active form of the Drosophila steroid hormone ecdysone, 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E), binds the heterodimer EcR/USP nuclear receptor to regulate target genes that elicit proliferation, cell death and differentiation during insect development. This study shows that the prothoracic gland (PG), the major steroid-producing organ of insect larvae, requires EcR and USP to survive in a critical period previous to metamorphosis, and that this requirement is 20E-independent. The cell death induced by the downregulation of these receptors involves the activation of the JNK-encoding basket gene. Also, while PG cell death prevents ecdysone production, blocking hormone synthesis or secretion in normal PG does not lead to cell death, demonstrating further the ecdysone-independent nature of the receptor-deprivation cell death. In contrast to PG cells, wing disc or salivary glands cells do not require these receptors for survival, revealing their cell and developmental time specificity. For exploring the potential use of this feature of steroid receptors in cancer, tumor overgrowth induced by altered yorkie signaling was assayed. This overgrowth is suppressed by EcR downregulation in PG, but not in wing disc, cells. The mechanism of all these cell death features is based on the transcriptional regulation of reaper. These novel and context-dependent functional properties for EcR and USP receptors may help to understand the heterogeneous responses to steroid-based therapies in human pathologies.

McParland, A. L., Follansbee, T. L., Vesenka, G. D., Panaitiu, A. E. and Ganter, G. K. (2015). Steroid receptor isoform expression in Drosophila nociceptor neurons is required for normal dendritic arbor and sensitivity. PLoS One 10: e0140785. PubMed ID: 26495837
Steroid hormones organize many aspects of development, including that of the nervous system. Steroids also play neuromodulatory and other activational roles, including regulation of sensitivity to painful stimuli in mammals. In Drosophila, ecdysteroids are the only steroid hormones, and therefore the fly represents a simplified model system in which to explore mechanisms of steroid neuromodulation of nociception. In this report, evidence is presented that ecdysteroids, acting through two isoforms of their nuclear ecdysone receptor (EcR), modulate sensitivity to noxious thermal and mechanical stimuli in the fly larva. EcRA and EcRB1 are expressed by third instar larvae in the primary nociceptor neurons, known as the class IV multidendritic neurons. Suppression of EcRA by RNA interference in these cells leads to hyposensitivity to noxious stimulation. Suppression of EcRB1 leads to reduction of dendritic branching and length of nociceptor neurons. Specific isoforms of the ecdysone receptor play critical cell autonomous roles in modulating the sensitivity of nociceptor neurons and may indicate human orthologs that represent targets for novel analgesic drugs.
Knapp, E. and Sun, J. (2017). Steroid signaling in mature follicles is important for Drosophila ovulation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 28069934
Although ecdysteroid signaling regulates multiple steps in oogenesis, it is not known whether it regulates Drosophila ovulation, a process involving a matrix metalloproteinase-dependent follicle rupture. This study demonstrates that ecdysteroid signaling is operating in mature follicle cells to control ovulation. Moreover, knocking down shade (shd), encoding the monooxygenase that converts ecdysone (E) to the more active 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E), specifically in mature follicle cells, blocks follicle rupture, which is rescued by ectopic expression of shd or exogenous 20E. In addition, disruption of the Ecdysone receptor (EcR) in mature follicle cells mimicks shd-knockdown defects, which are reversed by ectopic expression of EcR.B2 but not by EcR.A or EcR.B1 isoforms. Furthermore, ecdysteroid signaling is essential for the proper activation of matrix metalloproteinase 2 (Mmp2) for follicle rupture. These data strongly suggest that 20E produced in follicle cells before ovulation activates EcR.B2 to prime mature follicles to be responsive to neuronal ovulatory stimuli, thus providing mechanistic insights into steroid signaling in Drosophila ovulation.

Lai, Y. W., Chu, S. Y., Wei, J. Y., Cheng, C. Y., Li, J. C., Chen, P. L., Chen, C. H. and Yu, H. H. (2016). Drosophila microRNA-34 impairs axon pruning of mushroom body γ neurons by downregulating the expression of ecdysone receptor. Sci Rep 6: 39141. PubMed ID: 28008974
MicroRNA-34 (miR-34) is crucial for preventing chronic large-scale neurite degeneration in the aged brain of Drosophila melanogaster. This study investigated the role of miR-34 in two other types of large-scale axon degeneration in Drosophila: axotomy-induced axon degeneration in olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) and developmentally related axon pruning in mushroom body (MB) neurons. Ectopically overexpressed miR-34 did not inhibit axon degeneration in OSNs following axotomy, whereas ectopically overexpressed miR-34 in differentiated MB neurons impaired γ axon pruning. Intriguingly, the miR-34-induced γ axon pruning defect resulted from downregulating the expression of ecdysone receptor B1 (EcR-B1) in differentiated MB γ neurons. Notably, the separate overexpression of EcR-B1 or a transforming growth factor- β receptor Baboon, whose activation can upregulate the EcR-B1 expression, in MB neurons rescued the miR-34-induced gamma axon pruning phenotype. Future investigations of miR-34 targets that regulate the expression of EcR-B1 in MB γ neurons are warranted to elucidate pathways that regulate axon pruning, and to provide insight into mechanisms that control large-scale axon degeneration in the nervous system.
Kreher, J., Kovac, K., Bouazoune, K., Macinkovic, I., Ernst, A. L., Engelen, E., Pahl, R., Finkernagel, F., Murawska, M., Ullah, I. and Brehm, A. (2017). EcR recruits dMi-2 and increases efficiency of dMi-2-mediated remodelling to constrain transcription of hormone-regulated genes. Nat Commun 8: 14806. PubMed ID: 28378812
Gene regulation by steroid hormones plays important roles in health and disease. In Drosophila, the hormone ecdysone governs transitions between key developmental stages. Ecdysone-regulated genes are bound by a heterodimer of Ecdysone receptor (EcR) and Ultraspiracle. According to the bimodal switch model, steroid hormone receptors recruit corepressors in the absence of hormone and coactivators in its presence. This study shows that the nucleosome remodeller dMi-2 is recruited to ecdysone-regulated genes to limit transcription. Contrary to the prevalent model, recruitment of the dMi-2 corepressor increases upon hormone addition to constrain gene activation through chromatin remodelling. Furthermore, EcR and dMi-2 form a complex that is devoid of Ultraspiracle. Unexpectedly, EcR contacts the dMi-2 ATPase domain and increases the efficiency of dMi-2-mediated nucleosome remodelling. This study identifies a non-canonical EcR-corepressor complex with the potential for a direct regulation of ATP-dependent nucleosome remodelling by a nuclear hormone receptor.
Sharma, V., Pandey, A. K., Kumar, A., Misra, S., Gupta, H. P. K., Gupta, S., Singh, A., Buehner, N. A. and Ravi Ram, K. (2017). Functional male accessory glands and fertility in Drosophila require novel ecdysone receptor. PLoS Genet 13(5): e1006788. PubMed ID: 28493870
In many insects, the accessory gland, a secretory tissue of the male reproductive system, is essential for male fertility. Male accessory gland is the major source of proteinaceous secretions, collectively called as seminal proteins (or accessory gland proteins), which upon transfer, manipulate the physiology and behavior of mated females. Insect hormones such as ecdysteroids and juvenoids play a key role in accessory gland development and protein synthesis but little is known about underlying molecular players and their mechanism of action. This study examined the roles of hormone-dependent transcription factors (Nuclear Receptors), in accessory gland development, function and male fertility of a genetically tractable insect model, Drosophila melanogaster. First, an RNAi screen was carried out involving 19 hormone receptors, individually and specifically, in a male reproductive tissue (accessory gland) for their requirement in Drosophila male fertility. Subsequently, by using independent RNAi/ dominant negative forms, it was shown that Ecdysone Receptor (EcR) is essential for male fertility due to its requirement in the normal development of accessory glands in Drosophila: EcR depleted glands fail to make seminal proteins and have dying cells. Further, the data point to a novel ecdysone receptor that does not include Ultraspiracle but is probably comprised of EcR isoforms in Drosophila male accessory glands. The data suggest that this novel ecdysone receptor might act downstream of homeodomain transcription factor paired (prd) in the male accessory gland. Overall, the study suggests novel ecdysone receptor as an important player in the hormonal regulation of seminal protein production and insect male fertility.
Manning, L., Sheth, J., Bridges, S., Saadin, A., Odinammadu, K., Andrew, D., Spencer, S., Montell, D. and Starz-Gaiano, M. (2017). A hormonal cue promotes timely follicle cell migration by modulating transcription profiles. Mech Dev [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 28610887
Cell migration is essential during animal development. In the Drosophila ovary, the steroid hormone ecdysone coordinates nutrient sensing, growth, and the timing of morphogenesis events including border cell migration. To identify downstream effectors of ecdysone signaling, this study profiled gene expression in wild-type follicle cells compared to cells expressing a dominant negative Ecdysone receptor or its coactivator Taiman. Of approximately 400 genes that showed differences in expression, 16 candidate genes were validated for expression in border and centripetal cells, and seven responded to ectopic ecdysone activation by changing their transcriptional levels. A requirement was found for seven putative targets in effective cell migration, including two other nuclear hormone receptors, a calcyphosine-encoding gene, and a prolyl hydroxylase. Thus, this study identified multiple new genetic regulators modulated at the level of transcription that allow cells to interpret information from the environment and coordinate cell migration in vivo.

Induction of molting in Drosophila coincides with release from the ring gland of 20-hydroxyecdysone, also known as ecydsone. Prior to each of the larval molts, at pupariation, at pupation and during metamorphosis, hormone is released in carefully timed spurts, coinciding with major morphological transitions. (A description of these stages is give in Developmental origin of adult structures ).

Studies with other insects shows that release of Ecdysone from the ring gland is triggered by the prothoracicotropic hormone, produced by four dorsolateral neurosecretory cells of brain (see Drosophila Prothoracicotropic hormone.

Puffing is the term for changes in polytene chromosomes. The idea that puffing represents gene activity is currently 40 years old. A temporal pattern to puffing in the salivary glands of larval flies is inducible by ecdysone injection. A small number of genes react by puffing within minutes of exposure to ecdysone, and a much larger number (>100) react within hours. It is hypothesized that the time sequence of puffing represents a genetic hierarchy of gene activation. Early puffs are independent of protein synthesis while late puffs require prior protein synthesis (Ashburner, 1990).

Ecdysone receptor is induced at the beginning of the gene activation hierarchy. EcR is induced directly by ecdysone, and provides an autoregulatory loop that increases the level of receptor protein in response to the hormone ligand. EcR exists in three isoforms, each one having an different biological function. Each requires as a partner in heterodimerization the protein Ultraspiracle, the Drosophila homolog of vertebrate RXR proteins. Although ECR can bind ecdysone on its own, binding is greatly stimulated by the addition of USP. Ligand binding stabilizes the ECR-USP heterodimer and increases its affinity for binding to ecdysone response elements in the promoters of genes.

At least five other genes, and probably more than a dozen, are of critical importance to the regulatory hierarchy directed by EcR. E75 is also induced as an early gene, one that codes for another hormone receptor superfamily transcription factor with multiple protein isoforms. Binding sites for EcR exist in the promoter of E75, and EcR is required for the induction of the early response. The E75 response is self delimiting, as transcription is terminated soon after it initiates.

Several other genes act as delayed early genes, including hormone receptor superfamily genes E78B and DHR3, both of which are induced in a delayed fashion after EcR induction. Both require ecdysone-induced protein synthesis for their maximal levels of transcription, and appear to function as monomers to control expression of target genes (Horner, 1995). The delayed timing of E78B and DHR3 induction may allow EcR and E75 to perform regulatory functions before the delayed early genes become active, but the function of these genes is still unknown (Thummel, 1995).

During a second wave of puffing 4 to 6 hours after puparium formation, ßFTZ-F1 is induced as a mid-prepupal gene. FTZ-F1 maps to the 75CD mid-prepupal puff. It has been shown to interact with elements of the alcohol dehydrogenase gene and has also been implicated as an activator of fushi tarazu. ßFTZ-F1 is another complex gene with multiple isoforms; antibodies to ßFTZ-F1 detect binding to 166 loci in late prepupal salivary gland polytene chromosomes, 51 of which represent ecdysone-regulated puffs. Of 33 puffs that show increased activity after the peak of the 75CD puff, 17 show reproducible staining for ßFTZ-F1 (Lavorgna, 1993).

Experiments with cultured larval salivary glands have demonstrated that ßFTZ-F1 transcription is negatively regulated by ecdysone. In the absence of ecdysone, ßFTZ-F1 is induced. Repression is overcome as the levels of both ecdysone and EcR decrease during early-prepupal development. Thus ßFTZ-F1, through its interaction with EcR, provides a molecular mechanism for stage-specific responses to steroid hormones (Woodard, 1994).

In late prepupae, the midprepupal puffs regress and the early puffs are reinduced. In addition, a few stage-specific early puffs, typified by E93, are directly induced by ecdysone in late prepupae, but not in late larvae. The early puffs cannot be induced by ecdysone in early-prepupal salivary glands. Rather, a preceding period of protein synthesis and low ecdysone concentration is required before these puffs become competent to respond to hormone. It is suggested that one or more proteins encoded by the mid-prepupal puff genes provide the compentence for the early puffs to be induced by the prepupal ecdysone pulse; FTZ-F1 is a good candidate for this required gene (Woodard, 1994). Negative regulation is required in molting, as much as positive effects. For example, DHR78, an orphan nuclear receptor expressed throughout the early stages of metamorphosis, cannot heterodimerize with either ECR or USP but can bind to an Ecdysone receptor response element of a downstream gene in the hierarchy inhibiting the ability of ECR and USP to induce transcription (Zelhof, 1995).

In conclusion, each of these gene dyads and triads; EcR and USP, E75A, E78B and DHR3, ßFtz-F1, DRH78 and E93, is required in a sequential genetic hierarchy for the the timing of metamorphosis and the induction and repression of genes required for the differentiation process (Thummel, 1995). The complexity of the insect molting hierarchy serves as a warning for a generation of scientists who would unravel the hierarchies of mammalian development.

A role for juvenile hormone in the prepupal development of Drosophila melanogaster

To elucidate the role of juvenile hormone (JH) in metamorphosis of Drosophila melanogaster, the corpora allata cells, which produce JH, were killed using the cell death gene grim. These allatectomized (CAX) larvae were smaller at pupariation and died at head eversion. They showed premature ecdysone receptor B1 (EcR-B1) in the photoreceptors and in the optic lobe, downregulation of proliferation in the optic lobe, and separation of R7 from R8 in the medulla during the prepupal period. All of these effects of allatectomy were reversed by feeding third instar larvae on a diet containing the JH mimic (JHM) pyriproxifen or by application of JH III or JHM at the onset of wandering. Eye and optic lobe development in the Methoprene-tolerant (Met)-null mutant mimicked that of CAX prepupae, but the mutant formed viable adults, which had marked abnormalities in the organization of their optic lobe neuropils. Feeding Met27 larvae on the JHM diet did not rescue the premature EcR-B1 expression or the downregulation of proliferation but did partially rescue the premature separation of R7, suggesting that other pathways besides Met might be involved in mediating the response to JH. Selective expression of Met RNAi in the photoreceptors caused their premature expression of EcR-B1 and the separation of R7 and R8, but driving Met RNAi in lamina neurons led only to the precocious appearance of EcR-B1 in the lamina. Thus, the lack of JH and its receptor Met causes a heterochronic shift in the development of the visual system that is likely to result from some cells 'misinterpreting' the ecdysteroid peaks that drive metamorphosis (Riddiford, 2010).

Insect molting and metamorphosis are governed primarily by ecdysone (used in the generic sense) and juvenile hormone (JH), with ecdysone causing molting and JH preventing metamorphosis. Juvenile hormone has a classic 'status quo' action in preventing the program-switching action of ecdysone during larval molts and in maintaining the developmental arrest of imaginal primordia during the intermolt periods. Its effects at the outset of metamorphosis, though, are more complex. Studies mainly on Lepidoptera show that for selected tissues JH needs to be present to allow them to undergo pupal differentiation, rather than undertaking a precocious adult differentiation (Riddiford, 2010).

The mechanism through which JH maintains the status quo and directs early development at metamorphosis is still poorly understood. Whether JH has one or multiple receptors, and the nature of these receptors, is still controversial. The best candidate for a receptor is the product of the Methoprene-tolerant (Met) gene, a PAS domain protein that was originally isolated in Drosophila melanogaster. In vitro transcribed and translated Met protein has been shown to bind JH with high affinity, and RNAi knock-down experiments in Tribolium castaneum show that Met is essential for mediating the status quo action of JH in this beetle (Riddiford, 2010).

In D. melanogaster, JH is thought to have no role in the onset of metamorphosis, since exogenous JH only delays but does not prevent pupariation. Although it has no apparent effect on the development of the imaginal discs, JH prevents normal adult development of the abdominal integument when given at pupariation. Internally, JH at this time affects normal reorganization of the central nervous system and development of the thoracic musculature. These effects of JH on metamorphosis do not occur in Met mutants, unless at least 100 times the dose is given. The Met27-null mutants proceed through larval development and metamorphosis apparently normally. However, if in addition, RNAi is used to suppress expression of Germ-Cell Expressed (Gce), a related bHLH protein with a high similarity to Met that heterodimerizes with it, Met-null mutants die as pharate adults. In the Met-deficient mutant, the adult eye shows a few (<12) defective ommatidia in the posterior region. Also, the females mature fewer eggs at a slower rate than do wild-type females, indicating that Met is also important for JH effects in egg maturation (Riddiford, 2010).

This study genetically allatectomized Drosophila larvae by targeting expression of a cell death gene to the corpora allata (CA), the gland that produces JH. These larvae form smaller puparia and showed precocious maturation of the visual system, but die around head eversion (Riddiford, 2010).

Although a number of studies have reported the effects of applying exogenous JH or JH mimics to Drosophila, there are only two very recent studies of the effects of manipulating endogenous JH on larval growth and metamorphosis, both of which appeared while this paper was under review. JH is normally present in the early larval instars, declines substantially during the last (third) larval stage and then returns transiently around the time of pupariation. The allatectomized (CAX) larvae undergo the expected two larval molts, but because sometimes the remains of degenerating CA cells are seen at the start of the last larval stage, nothing can be concluded about the requirements of JH for these larval molts. Recently, Jones (2010) using 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl CoA reductase (HMGCR) RNAi to depress the level of JH and its farnesoid precursors in early larvae, showed that the larvae mainly die during the molt to the third instar, indicating that JH may be required for that molt (Riddiford, 2010).

The destruction of the CA by the third instar allowed examination of the role of JH during the last instar and early metamorphosis. The finding that these larvae were smaller than their CyO, UAS-grim siblings at pupariation could be explained by either the loss of JH or by the loss of the salivary glands, since these glands are also destroyed. Because dietary JH in the final instar rescued these larvae to normal size, the lack of the CA, rather than the lack of the salivary glands, is the cause of their reduced growth. Preliminary studies show that CAX larvae grow more slowly in the third instar, but the underlying basis for this retardation is not yet understood. Similarly, allatectomized third instar larvae display premature apoptosis of the fat body and downregulation of several enzymes involved in energy metabolism at the onset of wandering. These fat body effects could underlie the reduced larval growth seen in CAX larvae (Riddiford, 2010).

A major effect of the removal of JH was on the timing of events during the prepupal period. Studies on the wild silkmoth Hyalophora cecropia first showed that removal of the CA in the last larval stage resulted in the formation of a pupa with adult characteristics. Other moths, like Manduca sexta, showed more subtle responses to allatectomy, with premature adult differentiation most evident in the patterned region of the compound eye, posterior to the morphogenetic furrow. Subsequent studies on a variety of tissues in Manduca showed that the eye, the optic lobe and the ventral diaphragm each had a prolonged period of proliferation that extended from the prepupal period through early adult differentiation. This proliferation is maintained by α-ecdysone or low levels of 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E), but is terminated by high levels of 20E, which induces differentiation. These tissues are exposed to differentiation-inducing titers of 20E that occur during the larval-pupal transition early in their growth, but studies on the ventral diaphragm showed that JH 'protects' them from these high 20E levels, allowing them to continue proliferating. Removal of JH results in these tissues undergoing premature termination of tissue growth and precocious adult differentiation (Riddiford, 2010).

The response of Drosophila larvae to the loss of JH is in line with the effects seen in Manduca, and is also most evident in the developing visual system. In normal individuals, the appearance of EcR-B1 in the optic lobe and the termination of proliferation in the outer proliferation zone coincide with the ecdysteroid peak at head eversion and become more pronounced at 18 hours APF with the rise of ecdysteroid for adult differentiation. The separation of the R7 and R8 growth cones also begins about this latter time. The only one of these tissues that has been directly tested in vitro for 20E sensitivity is the optic lobe and in this case high levels of 20E do indeed suppress proliferation. It is assumed that the other processes also respond to the changing ecdysteroid levels. The lack of JH results in a heterochronic advance of these events by 10 to 12 hours, consistent with the tissues now responding to the earlier ecdysteroid peak that causes pupariation. Although the removal of JH advances these processes, it was found that the application of JH mimics delays them. Consequently, in selective tissues in Drosophila, JH acts to direct the nature of tissue responses to ecdysone (Riddiford, 2010).

The removal of JH or of one its receptors, Met, has a mixed effect on the developing visual system. No effect on proliferation or inductive events was seen in the eye disc itself, in that in CAX animals the morphogenetic furrow continues to move and similar rows of ommatidia have sent R8 axons into the medulla by 6 hours APF, as compared with controls. Likewise, in Met27 individuals there is only a slight advance (about 2 hours) in the schedule of lamina interneuron ingrowth into the medulla. However, for some of the cellular and molecular events, like the appearance of EcR-B1 and the separation of R7 from R8, there is a 10- to 18-hour advance in their occurrence. Hence, the lack of JH or of its receptor Met causes a heterochronic shift within the developing visual system with some differentiation responses being advanced relative to the normal schedule of neuronal birth and axon ingrowth. At least in the case of the photoreceptors, the effect of Met removal is largely cell autonomous, with the reduction of Met function in just those cells being sufficient to cause the precocious appearance of EcR-B1 and the early separation of R7 from R8. By contrast, the reduction of Met in lamina interneurons allowed these cells to precociously express EcR-B1 but did not affect the behavior of the R7 and R8 growth cones. This suggests that the separation of R7 and R8 is an active response of the photoreceptors, which is likely to be caused by the rising ecdysteroid titer driving adult differentiation. Although the lack of JH or Met function at the outset of metamorphosis results in the cell-autonomous expression of EcR-B1 in the photoreceptors, misexpression experiments show that the appearance of this receptor alone is not sufficient to bring about the early separation of R7 and R8. Therefore, although the upregulation of EcR-B1 is a prominent response to rising ecdysteroid titers, it is not the key change responsible for the repositioning of the receptor terminals (Riddiford, 2010).

As it is viable, the Met mutant allowed the final results of the mistiming of development in the optic lobes to be seen. No permanent effect was seen of the early separation of the R7 and R8 growth cones on the final anatomy of these projections in the medulla, or on the structure of the later neuropil. However, the lobula was grossly distorted and the normal layering of dendritic arbors disrupted. This aberrant morphogenesis also starts early, being already evident by 12 hours APF. The cellular basis for the lobula distortion, however, is not yet known (Riddiford, 2010).

Heterochronic shifts in the timing of development that extend beyond the visual system are likely to be the cause of the lethality seen in the CAX puparia. Puparia appear normal through the first 6 to 7 hours after pupariation but then abruptly undergo tissue collapse. In normal flies, the early part of metamorphosis is accomplished by a complicated replacement of histolyzing larval tissues by the growing adult tissues. Diverse tissues show individualized times of histolysis that are tied to the ecdysteroid titer. For instance, the larval midgut cells degenerate in response to the pupariation peak of ecdysone, whereas the larval salivary gland degeneration is triggered by the small rise of ecdysteroid at the end of the prepupal period. It is suspected that without JH, some of the histolysis events are mistimed, leading to the rapid death of the prepupa. It has been shown in CAX larvae that the fat body undergoes precocious programmed cell death beginning in the third larval instar. Interestingly, this lethal effect was not seen in animals in which Aug21-GAL4 drove RNAi for JH acid O-methyltransferase, the enzyme that converts JH acid to JH, in the CA (Niwa, 2008). Whether this indicates that JH acid plays a role in prepupal development or merely reflects the incomplete loss of JH in these animals is unknown (Riddiford, 2010).

All these effects of allatectomy can be rescued by JH either fed during the third instar or applied at the time of early wandering, but not at pupariation. A decline of JH III occurs in the third instar; this is followed by a peak of JH during late wandering. When JH begins to rise is unknown, as measurements were made every 24 hours. Presumably it is the lack of this JH during wandering when the ecdysteroid titer is rising and peaking that leads to the optic lobe anomalies and the premature histolysis (Riddiford, 2010).

The finding that the Met27 null mutant has the same defects in optic lobe development as are found in CAX prepupae strongly suggests that JH is acting via the Met pathway in controlling the timing of some events in the optic lobe. Accordingly, JHM treatment cannot suppress most of the premature development seen in prepupae lacking Met. However, a major difference between the CAX animals and the Met27 mutants is that the CAX prepupae died before head eversion, whereas the Met27 animals are viable. This difference is also seen in the precocious cell death of the fat body caused by allatectomy, which does not occur in the Met null mutant even in the presence of gce RNAi. Instead precocious cell death of the fat body was seen when Met was overexpressed in that tissue and the death could be suppressed by exogenous methoprene (a JH mimic). This latter finding suggests that JH would act in this case to suppress Met-mediated cell death. This idea was tested by seeing whether the removal of Met would protect the prepupa from the death caused by early allatectomy. When Met27; Aug21-GAL4>UAS-GFP/CyO females were crossed with UAS-grim males, 44% eclosed, all showing the CyO phenotype. The remainder died at head eversion, and should have been half CAX, Met-heterozygous females and half CAX, Met-null males. Another group was separated by sex prior to pupariation. Forty-nine percent of the females and 48% of the males died at head eversion. All of the adults that emerged were CyO, showing that all the CAX prepupae died regardless of whether or not they were lacking Met function (Riddiford, 2010).

These results together with the findings that JHM treatment of the Met27 mutant gave a partial rescue of the premature separation of R7 and R8, and of the decreased proliferation in the inner proliferation zone, indicate that there may be more than one receptor for JH. Thus, JH might act through multiple pathways. A major pathway involves Met, but Gce or some other mediator may serve as an alternate pathway in some tissues. A similar protective role of JH at pupation mediated by Met is found in Tribolium; injection of Met RNAi into either fourth instar larvae or final instar larvae caused the precocious appearance of adult eyes, adult antennae and other features in the resulting pupae (Riddiford, 2010).

These studies show that JH has an endogenous function in regulating Drosophila metamorphosis, a specific example being in orchestrating the timing of differentiation events in the developing visual system. These effects of JH are primarily mediated through the Met pathway. JH also is necessary for normal larval growth and has another, as yet undefined, crucial role in prepupal development that prevents death at head eversion. The latter effect is not mediated through Met, indicating that JH might act through multiple pathways (Riddiford, 2010).

Steroid signaling promotes stem cell maintenance in the Drosophila testis

Stem cell regulation by local signals is intensely studied, but less is known about the effects of hormonal signals on stem cells. In Drosophila, the primary steroid twenty-hydroxyecdysone (20E) regulates ovarian germline stem cells (GSCs) but was considered dispensable for testis GSC maintenance. Male GSCs reside in a microenvironment (niche) generated by somatic hub cells and adjacent cyst stem cells (CySCs). This study shows that depletion of 20E from adult males by overexpressing a dominant negative form of the Ecdysone receptor (EcR) or its heterodimeric partner ultraspiracle (usp) causes GSC and CySC loss that is rescued by 20E feeding, uncovering a requirement for 20E in stem cell maintenance. EcR and USP are expressed, activated and autonomously required in the CySC lineage to promote CySC maintenance, as are downstream genes ftz-f1 and E75. In contrast, GSCs non-autonomously require ecdysone signaling. Global inactivation of EcR increases cell death in the testis that is rescued by expression of EcR-B2 in the CySC lineage, indicating that ecdysone signaling supports stem cell viability primarily through a specific receptor isoform. Finally, EcR genetically interacts with the NURF chromatin-remodeling complex, which has been shown to maintain CySCs. Thus, although 20E levels are lower in males than females, ecdysone signaling acts through distinct cell types and effectors to ensure both ovarian and testis stem cell maintenance (Li, 2014).

This work shows that the steroid hormone 20E plays an important role in maintaining stem cells in theDrosophila testis: 20E, receptors of ecdysone signaling, and downstream targets are required directly in CySCs for their maintenance. When ecdysone signaling is lost in CySCs, GSCs are also lost, but it is unclear if their maintenance requires an ecdysone-dependent or independent signal from the CySCs. The requirement for EcR in the testis is isoform-specific: expression of EcR-B2 in the CySC lineage is sufficient to rescue loss of GSCs and CySCs and increased cell death in EcR mutant testes, suggesting that there might be a temporal and spatial control of ecdysone signaling in the adult testis. In addition, evidence is provided that ecdysone signaling, as in the ovary, is able to interact with an intrinsic chromatin-remodeling factor, Nurf301, to promote stem cell maintenance. Therefore, these studies have revealed a novel role for ecdysone signaling in Drosophila male reproduction (Li, 2014).

Although ecdysone signaling is required in both ovaries and testes for stem cell maintenance, the responses in each tissue are likely to be sex-specific. In the ovary, 20E controls GSCs directly, by modulating their proliferation and self-renewal, and it acts predominantly through the downstream target gene E74. In contrast, male GSCs require ecdysone signaling only indirectly: ecdysone signaling was found to be required in the CySC lineage to maintain both CySCs and GSCs. In a previous study, RNAi-mediated knockdown of EcR, usp or E75 in the CySC lineage did not result in a significant loss of GSCs; however, the number of CySCs was not determined, and the phenotype was examined after 4 or 8 days, not 14 days as in this study. It is suspected that the earlier time points used in that study may not have allowed enough time for a significant number of GSCs to be lost (Li, 2014).

During development, 20E is produced in the prothoracic gland (PG) and further metabolized to 20E in target tissues, but the PG does not persist into adulthood. In adult female Drosophila, the ovary is a source of 20E. In contrast, the identification of steroidogenic tissues in adult male Drosophila remains the subject of active investigation. The level of 20E in adult males is significantly lower than in adult females, but it can be detected in the testis. Furthermore, RNA-seq data show that shade, which encodes the enzyme that metabolizes the prohomone ecdysone to 20E, is expressed in the adult testis, suggesting that the adult testis may produce 20E. However, the sources of 20E production in adult Drosophila males remain to be determined experimentally (Li, 2014).

20E, like other systemic hormones, can have tissue-specific effects or differential effects on the same cell type as development proceeds. These differences are mediated at least in part by the particular downstream target genes that are activated in each case. For example, in female 3rd instar larval ovaries, ecdysone signaling upregulates br expression to induce niche formation and PGC differentiation, but br is not required for GSC maintenance in the adult ovary; instead, E74 plays this role. Similarly, br is required for the establishment of intestinal stem cells (ISCs) in the larval and pupal stages but not for ISC function in adults. This study shows that ecdysone signaling in the adult testis is mediated by different target genes than in the ovary: E74, but not E75 or br, regulate stem cell function in the ovary, whereas E75 and ftz-f1 are important for stem cell maintenance in the testis. Since E75 is itself a nuclear hormone receptor that responds to the second messenger nitric oxide, it will be interesting to know whether E75's partner DHR3 also plays a role in CySCs. An intriguing question for future studies will be how different ecdysone target genes interact with the various signaling pathways that maintain stem cells in the ovary or testis (Li, 2014).

Since 20E levels can actively respond to physiological changes induced by environmental cues, it is possible that the effect of 20E on testis stem cell maintenance might reflect changes in diet, stress, or other environmental cues. For example, in Aedes aegypti, ecdysteroid production in the ovary is stimulated by blood feeding and this is an insulin-dependent process. In Drosophila, ecdysone signaling is known to interact with the insulin pathway in a complex way. Ovaries from females with hypomorphic mutations in the insulin-like receptor have reduced levels of 20E. Furthermore, ecdysone signaling can directly inhibit insulin signaling and control larval growth in the fat body. Thus, ecdysone signaling may interact with insulin signaling during testis stem cell maintenance. Previously, it was shown that GSCs in the ovary and testis can respond to diet through insulin signaling, which is required to promote stem cell maintenance in both sexes. It is possible that diet can affect 20E levels and thus regulate stem cell maintenance. In addition to diet, stress can also affect 20E levels, as is the case in Drosophila virilis, where 20E levels increase significantly under high temperature stress. A similar effect has been found in mammals, where the steroid hormone cortisol is released in response to psychological stressor. Finally, 20E levels are also influenced by mating. In Anopheles gambiae, males transfer 20E to blood-fed females during copulation, which is important for egg production. In female Drosophila, whole body ecdysteroid levels also increase after mating. Studying the roles of hormonal signaling in mediating stem cell responses to stress and other environmental cues will be an exciting topic for future studies. From this work it is now clear that, as in mammals, steroid signaling plays critical roles in adult stem cell function during both male and female gametogenesis (Li, 2014).


Genomic length - 36 kb cDNA length - 5534

Bases in 5' UTR -1068

Exons - 6

Bases in 3' UTR - 1819


Three protein isoforms are encoded by EcR, designated ECR-A, ECR-B1 and ECR-B2. These proteins differ in their amino-terminal sequences but contain identical DNA binding domains and ligand binding domains. The A and B1 isoforms are encoded by overlapping transcription units that have different promotors and can be separately controlled. The N-terminal amino acids of ECR-A are coded for by three exons specific to that isoform, while both the DNA binding and ligand binding domains of ECR-A are coded for by exons shared with the other two isoforms. The B1 and B2 isoforms are encoded by mRNAs that derive from the EcR-B primary transcript by alternative splicing (Talbot, 1993).

Amino Acids - 878

Structural Domains

There are two conserved domains characteristic of steroid receptor superfamily members. The more N-terminal domain is a DNA-binding domain and the more C-terminal domain is a hormone-binding domain also implicated as a protein interaction domain (Koelle, 1991). EcR is a Class II member of the nuclear receptor superfamily, classified as such on the basis of its ability to heterodimerize with RXR (in Drosophila Ultraspiracle) and a its ability to bind to direct repeats. EcR is most closely related to the vertebrate Farnesoid X receptor (Mangelsdorf, 1995).

A comparative tree of DNA-binding domain amino acid sequences reveals the evolutionary affinities of Drosophila nuclear receptor proteins. Knirps shows no close affinities to other nuclear receptor proteins. Drosophila Ecdysone receptor sequence is most similar to murine RIP14. Tailless has a close affinity to murine Tlx. Drosophila E78 and E75 fall in the same subclass as Rat Reverb alpha and beta, and C. elegans "CNR-14." Drosophila HR3 is in the same subclass as C. elegans "CNR-3." Drosophila HNF-4 is most closely related in sequence to Rat HNF-4. Drosophila Ftz-F1 and Mus ELP show sequence similarity to each other. Drosophila Seven up is closely related to Human COUP-TF. Drosophila Ultraspiracle is in the same subfamily as Human RXRalpha, Human RXRbeta, and Murine RXRgamma. The latter two groups, containing Ultraspiracle and Seven up, show a distant affinity to each other. Four other subfamilies show no close Drosophila affinities. These are: 1) C. elegans rhr-2, 2) Human RARalpha, beta and gamma, 3) Human thyroid hormone receptor alpha and beta, and 4) Human growth hormone receptor, glucocorticoid receptor, and progesterone receptor (Sluder, 1997).

Ecdysone receptor: Evolutionary homologs | Regulation | Targets of Activity | Protein interactions | Developmental Biology | Effects of Mutation | References

date revised: 28 MAY 97  

Home page: The Interactive Fly © 1995, 1996 Thomas B. Brody, Ph.D.

The Interactive Fly resides on the
Society for Developmental Biology's Web server.