Halloween genes and nuclear receptors in ecdysteroid biosynthesis and signalling in the pea aphid


Guy Smagghe, Laboratory of Agrozoology, Department of Crop Protection, Ghent University, 9000 Ghent, Belgium. Tel.: +32 9 2646150; fax: +32 9 2646239; e-mail: guy.smagghe@ugent.be


The pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) is the first whole genome sequenced insect with a hemimetabolic development and an emerging model organism for studies in ecology, evolution and development. The insect steroid moulting hormone 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E) controls and coordinates development in insects, especially the moulting/metamorphosis process. We, therefore present here a comprehensive characterization of the Halloween genes phantom, disembodied, shadow, shade, spook and spookiest, coding for the P450 enzymes that control the biosynthesis of 20E. Regarding the presence of nuclear receptors in the pea aphid genome, we found 19 genes, representing all of the seven known subfamilies. The annotation and phylogenetic analysis revealed a strong conservation in the class of Insecta. But compared with other sequenced insect genomes, three orthologues are missing in the Acyrthosiphon genome, namely HR96, PNR-like and Knirps. We also cloned the EcR, Usp, E75 and HR3. Finally, 3D-modelling of the ligand-binding domain of Ap-EcR exhibited the typical canonical structural scaffold with 12 α-helices associated with a short hairpin of two antiparallel β-strands. Upon docking, 20E was located in the hormone-binding groove, supporting the hypothesis that EcR has a role in 20E signalling.