Hormonal Regulation

The juvenile hormones (JHs) and ecdysteroids, two of the major families of insect hormones that direct insect development, metamorphosis, and reproduction, are intimately involved in regulating diapause. The JHs, which are iso-prenoids secreted by the corpus allatum (CA), maintain the juvenile characters during the premetamorphic molts, while the steroid hormones from the prothoracic gland (PG), ecdysone and related compounds, dictate the decision to molt. In turn, the CA and PG are regulated by both neural and humoral factors from the brain. Brain neuropeptides governing the CA can exert either a stimulatory (allatotropins) or an inhibitory action (allatoinhibins) on the CA. The dominant regulator of the PG is the brain neuropeptide prothoracicotropic hormone (PTTH). These hormones, together with diapause hormone, a unique neuropeptide that regulates the embryonic diapause of the commercial silkworm, are the key hormonal regulators of insect diapause. In certain situations, the presence of one or more of these hormones promotes diapause, while in others it is the absence of a certain hormone that causes diapause.

Embryonic Diapause

The best understood hormonal mechanism regulating embryonic diapause is based on the silkworm. In this species diapause intercedes early during embryogenesis, just before segmentation. The developmental fate of the embryo is determined by the presence or absence of diapause hormone (DH), a neuropeptide secreted by the mother's subesophageal ganglion. In the presence of DH, the ovariole produces eggs that enter diapause, and when the hormone is not present the eggs develop without the interruption of diapause. Whether the mother releases DH is dependent upon the photoperiod she was exposed to as an embryo. Thus, the mother's photoperiodic history dictates whether she will release the DH needed to influence the diapause fate of her progeny.

The structure of DH has been defined, as well as the sequence of the cDNA that encodes the peptide. DH appears to exert its effect on diapause by influencing carbohydrate metabolism. In the presence of DH, the developing oocytes incorporate glycogen stores, which in turn are converted to sorbitol. Sorbitol was originally thought to function simply as a cryoprotectant, but recent work suggests that sorbitol may actually be involved in shutting down development in the embryo. The addition of sorbitol to an embryo that is programmed to develop without diapause elicits a developmental arrest; in contrast, the removal of sorbitol from diapause-programmed embryos enables the embryos to develop without diapause.

No other diapauses appear to rely on DH for diapause regulation. It appears to be a hormonal regulator unique to the silkworm. In the gypsy moth diapause occurs at the end of embryogenesis, just before hatching of the first instar. The diapause of this species appears to be regulated by maintenance of a high ecdysteroid titer. As long as the ecdysteroid titer remains high, the pharate first instar remains locked in diapause. Only when the ecdysteroid titer drops in the spring is the gypsy moth free to terminate its diapause and hatch. Yet another mechanism seems to operate in the giant silkmoth, Antheraea yamamai. In this insect, an unidentified repressive factor from the mesothorax inhibits the action of a maturation factor from the abdomen. The fact that all three species that have been examined display different endocrine control mechanisms suggests a wealth of mechanisms operating in the regulation of these early stage diapauses.

Larval Diapause

Larval diapause frequently intercedes at the end of larval life, just before the onset of pupation and metamorphosis, but it is not at all uncommon in earlier instars as well. Common to most examples of larval diapause is a shutdown in the brain—prothoracic gland axis. In the absence of ecdysteroids from the PG, the larva fails to initiate the next molt. The failure of the brain to release ecdysteroids can usually be directly attributed to the brain's failure to release PTTH. In a number of species, JH may also play a role. For example, in the southwestern corn borer, D. grandiosella, the JH titer remains elevated throughout diapause, and the diapause can be terminated only when the JH titer drops. In some other species such as the European corn borer, O. nubilalis, the JH titer is high in early diapause but then declines and remains low throughout the remainder of diapause. No role for JH is apparent in several other insects: the larval diapause of both the parasitic wasp, Nasonia vitripennis, and the blow fly, Calliphora vicina, can be explained strictly as an ecdysteroid deficiency.

Pupal Diapause

Pupal diapause is the consequence of a shutdown in the brain—prothoracic gland axis. Thus, in the absence of ecdysteroids from the PG the progression of adult differentiation is halted. At the termination of diapause ecdysteroids are again released, triggering adult development. In H. cecropia a period of chilling is required before the brain can stimulate the PG to release ecdysteroids. Pupal diapauses can usually be quickly terminated with an injection of 20-hydroxyecdysone. Usually the absence of ecdysteroids can be attributed directly to a failure of the brain to release the neuropeptide PTTH needed to stimulate the PG to synthesize ecdysteroids, but in some insects, e.g., Heliothis zea, PTTH is released shortly after pupation, but pupa fail to develop until the PG has been chilled adequately.

Unlike larval diapause there is no evidence suggesting that JH regulates pupal diapause induction or termination, yet JH is indeed present during pupal diapause in some species. In flesh flies, cycles of JH activity apparently drive infradian cycles (4-day periodicity at 25°C) of metabolic activity that persist throughout diapause.

Adult Diapause

A shutdown in JH synthesis is a key feature in the regulation of adult diapause. The corpora allata, the endocrine glands that synthesize and release JH, are characteristically small during diapause. Application of exogenous JH or implantation of active corpora allata into a diapausing individual usually prompts the termination of diapause. Conversely, the surgical extirpation of the corpora allata from a nondiapausing adult causes the adult to enter a diapause-like state. Measurement of the JH titer also supports the idea that adult diapause is the consequence of a shutdown of the corpora allata: the titer of JH typically drops as the insect enters diapause and increases again when diapause is terminated.

It is the brain that regulates the corpora allata, and both nervous and humoral pathways are involved in its regulation. In the Colorado potato beetle, the brain exerts its control over the corpora allata by a humoral mechanism, but in the linden bug, Pyrrhocoris apterus, nervous control is also involved. Ecdysteroids may also be involved in some species. The ecdysteroid titer is nearly twice as high in Colorado potato beetles destined for diapause than in those that are not destined to enter diapause, and an injection of ecdysteroids can terminate adult diapause in Drosophila melanogaster.

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