Insect neuropeptide bursicon homodimers induce innate immune and stress genes during molting by activating the NF-κB transcription factor relish

Shiheng An, Shengzhang Dong, Qian Wang, Sheng Li, Lawrence I. Gilbert, David Stanley, Qisheng Song

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Bursicon is a heterodimer neuropeptide composed of two cystine knot proteins, bursicon α (burs α) and bursicon β (burs β), that elicits cuticle tanning (melanization and sclerotization) through the Drosophila leucine-rich repeats-containing G protein-coupled receptor 2 (DLGR2). Recent studies show that both bursicon subunits also form homodimers. However, biological functions of the homodimers have remained unknown until now. Methodology/Principal Findings: In this report, we show in Drosophila melanogaster that both bursicon homodimers induced expression of genes encoding antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) in neck-ligated adults following recombinant homodimer injection and in larvae fat body after incubation with recombinant homodimers. These AMP genes were also up-regulated in 24 h old unligated flies (when the endogenous bursicon level is low) after injection of recombinant homodimers. Up-regulation of AMP genes by the homodimers was accompanied by reduced bacterial populations in fly assay preparations. The induction of AMP expression is via activation of the NF-κB transcription factor Relish in the immune deficiency (Imd) pathway. The influence of bursicon homodimers on immune function does not appear to act through the heterodimer receptor DLGR2, i.e. novel receptors exist for the homodimers. Conclusions/Significance: Our results reveal a mechanism of CNS-regulated prophylactic innate immunity during molting via induced expression of genes encoding AMPs and genes of the Turandot family. Turandot genes are also up-regulated by a broader range of extreme insults. From these data we infer that CNS-generated bursicon homodimers mediate innate prophylactic immunity to both stress and infection during the vulnerable molting cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere34510
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 28 2012


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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