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Mech Dev. 2010 May-Jun;127(5-6):308-19. doi: 10.1016/j.mod.2010.01.003. Epub 2010 Jan 20.

Tissue-autonomous EcR functions are required for concurrent organ morphogenesis in the Drosophila embryo.

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Institute of Biomedicine, Gothenburg University, P.O. Box 440, SE-40530 Gothenburg, Sweden.


The insect hormone 20-hydroxy-ecdysone (20E) peaks at different stages during the life cycle. The hormone signal is commonly transmitted by a nuclear receptor consisting of the ecdysone receptor (EcR) and Ultraspiracle (Usp, orthologous to vertebrate RXR). EcR:Usp then initiate the expression of a series of gene regulators that help mediate biological responses to the hormone. Here, we investigated the embryonic ecdysone-signalling mechanism. The rise in 20E levels that occurs at mid-embryogenesis is required for major tissue movements to complete organ morphogenesis, but the functions of EcR and Usp during embryogenesis have remained unclear. We find that both EcR and Usp are essential for head involution, dorsal closure and tracheal and midgut morphogenesis, processes that also depend on 20E, arguing that embryonic 20E signals via EcR:Usp. We also show that EcR mediates the effects on organ morphogenesis in a tissue-autonomous manner and thus, that embryonic EcR functions are not fully reflected by the commonly used EcR activity assays. Finally, we show that embryonic 20E via EcR instructs the temporal and tissue-specific expression of four transcription factors that are needed for late embryogenesis and are common to the metamorphic 20E response. The results suggest that mid-embryonic EcR-activation imparts a level of gene regulation during embryonic organogenesis that has been largely overlooked, and possibly facilitates synchronized development of individual organs.

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