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Insect Mol Biol. 2013 Dec;22(6):623-34. doi: 10.1111/imb.12050. Epub 2013 Aug 6.

Identification, characterization and analysis of expression of genes encoding arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferases in the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum.

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Institut Cavanilles de Biodiversitat i Biologia Evolutiva, Universitat de València, Valencia, Spain.


Most organisms exhibit some kind of rhythmicity in their behaviour and/or physiology as an adaptation to the cyclical movements of the Earth. In addition to circadian rhythms, many organisms have an annual rhythmicity in certain activities, such as reproduction, migration or induction of diapause. Current knowledge of the molecular basis controlling seasonal rhythmicity, especially in insects, is scarce. One element that seems to play an essential role in the maintenance of both circadian and seasonal rhythms in vertebrates is the hormone melatonin. In vertebrates, the limiting enzyme in its synthesis is the arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT). Melatonin is also present in insects but the precise biochemical pathway and the enzymes involved in its synthesis are unknown. Insects possess phylogenetically distant arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferases but their involvement in melatonin synthesis still needs to be fully demonstrated. Aphids have a seasonally rhythmical life cycle, reproducing parthenogenetically by viviparity in favourable seasons but, in unfavourable seasons, they produce a single generation of sexual individuals. The length of the photoperiod is the main environmental factor that controls the mode of reproduction in aphids. Taking advantage of the availability of the genome of the aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum, we searched for genes encoding aphid arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase homologues that could be candidates for participation in seasonal rhythmicity. We identified four AANAT genes, of which at least two (Ap-AANAT1 and Ap-AANAT3) showed highly significant variation in transcription levels depending on the photoperiod conditions. These results are discussed in the context of how seasonality can be controlled in aphids.


AANAT; aphid; diapause; life-cycle; melatonin; photoperiod

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