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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Dec 22;106(51):21678-82. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0907391106. Epub 2009 Dec 4.

MicroRNA-dependent metamorphosis in hemimetabolan insects.

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  • 1Institut de Biologia Evolutiva (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas and Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Passeig Marítim de la Barceloneta, 37-49, 08003 Barcelona, Spain.


How does a juvenile insect transform into an adult? This question, which sums up the wonder of insect metamorphosis, has fascinated mankind since ancient times. Modern physiology has established the endocrine basis regulating these transformations, which mainly depend on two hormone types: ecdysteroids, which promote molts, and juvenile hormones, which repress the transformation into the adult stage. The interplay of these two hormones regulates the genes involved in juvenile and adult programs and the shift from one to the other. microRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNAs, which participate in many biological processes, and we wondered whether they might be also involved in insect metamorphosis. In insects, Dicer-1 ribonuclease transforms miRNA precursors into mature miRNAs. Thus, using systemic RNA interference (RNAi) to silence the expression of Dicer-1 in the hemimetabolan insect Blattella germanica, we depleted miRNA contents in the last instar nymph. This practically inhibited metamorphosis after the next molt, as the resulting specimens showed nymphoid features and were able to molt again. The experiments show that miRNAs play a key role in hemimetabolan metamorphosis, perhaps regulating genes that are juvenile hormone targets.

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