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Arthropod Struct Dev. 2006 Sep;35(3):137-52.

Cuticle differentiation during Drosophila embryogenesis.

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Max-Planck-Institute for Developmental Biology, Department for Genetics and Microscopy Unit, Abteilung III, Spemannstrasse 35, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.


The constitutive criterion for the evolutionary successful clade of ecdysozoans is a protective exoskeleton. In insects the exoskeleton, the so-called cuticle consists of three functional layers, the waterproof envelope, the proteinaceous epicuticle and the chitinous procuticle that are produced as an extracellular matrix by the underlying epidermal cells. Here, we present our electron-microscopic study of cuticle differentiation during embryogenesis in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. We conclude that cuticle differentiation in the Drosophila embryo occurs in three phases. In the first phase, the layers are established. Interestingly, we find that establishment of the layers occurs partially simultaneously rather than in a strict sequential manner as previously proposed. In the second phase the cuticle thickens. Finally, in the third phase, when secretion of cuticle material has ceased, the chitin laminae acquire their typical orientation, and the epicuticle of the denticles and the head skeleton darken. Our work will help to understand the phenotypes of embryos mutant for genes encoding essential cuticle factors, in turn revealing mechanisms of cuticle differentiation.


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