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Dev Genes Evol. 2003 Jan;212(12):571-84. Epub 2002 Nov 19.

Localization of ecdysone receptor protein during colour pattern formation in wings of the butterfly Precis coenia (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) and co-expression with Distal-less protein.

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Institute of Zoology I, University of Erlangen-N├╝rnberg, Staudtstrasse 5, 91058 Erlangen, Germany.


Butterfly wing colour patterns are determined during late larval and early pupal development, a part of metamorphosis controlled by ecdysteroid hormones via their nuclear hormone receptors. We have sequenced a fragment of the common regions of the ecdysone receptor (EcR) from the butterflies Precis coenia and Bicyclus anynanaand found high identities (83.5% to 100%) to EcR from a moth, Manduca sexta. In P. coenia, we sequenced a putative EcR-B1 isoform with 80.4% identity with the A/B-region of the M. sexta-EcR-B1. Consequently, we used antibodies generated against MsEcR-B1 to localise EcR protein during wing development of P. coenia. Nuclear staining of EcR was observed in different cell types during the course of colour pattern formation. Major observations are as follows: EcR is expressed in cell nuclei corresponding to wing lacunae and prospective veins. EcR is expressed early in pupal wing development in "focal" cells which are thought to release determining signals in a process leading to eyespot formation. Scale forming cells differentiate first and show EcR signal in the eyespot foci and most of the wing sheet, but not in areas corresponding to prospective eyespots. In the eyespots, 20-24 h after pupation, EcR expression seems to play a role in formation of scale rows preceding a later expression (28 h) in scale-forming cells. The results demonstrate that EcR is locally expressed in correlation to all major events of wing development and colour pattern formation. In particular, EcR expression patterns in prospective eyespots show that these are special pattern elements which are specified in concert with other factors of colour pattern formation such as the transcription factor Distal-less. In eyespot foci, Distal-less is expressed simultaneously with EcR, but clearly precedes EcR expression in eyespot scale-forming cells. This indicates a potential interaction between "short-range" signalling systems and "long-range" hormonal systems.

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