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Development. 1998 Jun;125(12):2303-13.

Regulation of dopa decarboxylase expression during colour pattern formation in wild-type and melanic tiger swallowtail butterflies.

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  • 1Department of General Zoology, University of Ulm, Albert-Einstein-Allee 11, D-89081 Ulm, Germany.


The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly Papilio glaucus shows a striking example of Batesian mimicry. In this species, females are either wild type (yellow and black) or melanic (where most of the yellow colour is replaced by black). In order to understand how these different colour patterns are regulated, we examined the temporal order of wing pigment synthesis via precursor incorporation studies, enzyme assays, and in situ hybridisation to mRNA encoding a key enzyme, dopa decarboxylase. We show that dopa decarboxylase provides dopamine to both of the two major colour pigments, papiliochrome (yellow) and melanin (black). Interestingly, however, dopa decarboxylase activity is spatially and temporally regulated, being utilised early in presumptive yellow tissues and later in black. Further, in melanic females, both dopa decarboxylase activity and early papiliochrome synthesis are suppressed in the central forewing and this normally yellow area is later melanised. These results show that the regulation of enzyme synthesis observed in the yellow/black pattern of a single wing, is similar to that involved in melanism. We infer that dopa decarboxylase activity must be regulated in concert with downstream enzymes of either the melanin and/or the papiliochrome specific pathways, forming part of a developmental switch between yellow or black. This modification of multiple enzyme activities in concert is consistent with a model of melanisation involving coordinate regulation of the underlying synthetic pathways by a single Y-linked (female) factor.

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