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J Exp Zool B Mol Dev Evol. 2018 Jul;330(5):305-311. doi: 10.1002/jez.b.22809. Epub 2018 Jun 10.

Reconstructed evolution of insulin receptors in insects reveals duplications in early insects and cockroaches.

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Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity, University of Münster, Münster, Germany.
Evolutionary Biology & Ecology, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.


Social insects show an extreme degree of phenotypic plasticity. In highly eusocial species, this manifests in the generation of distinct castes with extreme differences in both morphology and life span. The molecular basis of these differences is highly entangled and not fully understood, but several recent studies demonstrated that insulin/insulin-like growth factor signaling (IIS) is one of the key pathways. Here, we investigate the molecular evolution of insect insulin receptors (InRs), which are membrane-bound dimers that enable IIS by relaying extracellular signals to intracellular signaling cascades. Classic models of invertebrate IIS include only one InR gene, but some recent studies on less commonly studied insects have found two InRs, which act in an antagonistic manner to facilitate polyphenism in at least one documented case. We search 22 arthropod genomes and identify several InR copies and their evolutionary origin that were lacking from previous annotations. Phylogenetic analysis shows that the two insect InR genes date back at least 400 million years to a common ancestor of winged insects. Most notably, we also identified the evolutionary origin of a third InR copy that is unique to the clade of Blattodea, just before therein the eusocial termites evolved. One of the InR paralogs consistently shows caste-biased expression in all three termites, which strongly suggests a role in caste differentiation. These results have important ramifications for past and future InR inhibition/InR knockdown experiments in insects and they provide a set of key genes regulating life span and morphology in termite castes.


aging; cockroaches; evolution; insects; insulin receptor; insulin signaling; polyphenism; social insects; termites

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