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Annu Rev Entomol. 2014;59:405-25. doi: 10.1146/annurev-ento-011613-162056.

The development and functions of oenocytes.

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Division of Physiology and Metabolism, Medical Research Council, National Institute for Medical Research, London, NW7 1AA, United Kingdom; email:


Oenocytes have intrigued insect physiologists since the nineteenth century. Many years of careful but mostly descriptive research on these cells highlights their diverse sizes, numbers, and anatomical distributions across Insecta. Contemporary molecular genetic studies in Drosophila melanogaster and Tribolium castaneum support the hypothesis that oenocytes are of ectodermal origin. They also suggest that, in both short and long germ-band species, oenocytes are induced from a Spalt major/Engrailed ectodermal zone by MAPK signaling. Recent glimpses into some of the physiological functions of oenocytes indicate that they involve fatty acid and hydrocarbon metabolism. Genetic studies in D. melanogaster have shown that larval oenocytes synthesize very-long-chain fatty acids required for tracheal waterproofing and that adult oenocytes produce cuticular hydrocarbons required for desiccation resistance and pheromonal communication. Exciting areas of future research include the evolution of oenocytes and their cross talk with other tissues involved in lipid metabolism such as the fat body.

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