Prothoracicotropic hormone controls female sexual receptivity through the function of ecdysone in pC1 neurons of Drosophila

  1. Institute of Molecular Physiology, Shenzhen Bay Laboratory, Shenzhen 518132, China
  2. State Key Laboratory of Integrated Management of Pest Insects and Rodents, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
  3. CAS Key Laboratory of Genome Sciences and Information, Beijing Institute of Genomics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
  4. Department of Plant Protection, Shanxi Agricultural University, Jinzhong 30801, China
  5. Chinese Institute for Brain Research, Peking-Tsinghua Center for Life Sciences, Zhongguancun Life Sciences Park, Beijing 102206, China
  6. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China


  • Reviewing Editor
    Nara Muraro
    Instituto de Investigación en Biomedicina de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Senior Editor
    Albert Cardona
    University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

Summary: This article explores the role of Ecdysone in regulating female sexual receptivity in Drosophila. The researchers found that PTTH, throughout its role as a positive regulator of ecdysone production, negatively affects the receptivity of adult virgin females. Indeed, loss of larval PTTH before metamorphosis significantly increases female receptivity right after adult eclosion and also later. However, during metamorphic neurodevelopment, Ecdysone, primarily through its receptor EcR-A, is required to properly develop the P1 neurons since its silencing led to morphological changes associated with a reduction in adult female receptivity. Nonetheless, the result shown in this manuscript sheds light on how Ecdysone plays a dual role in female adult receptivity, inhibiting it during larval development and enhancing it during metamorphic development. Unfortunately, this dual and opposite effect in two temporally different developmental stages has not been highlighted or explained.

Strengths: This paper exhibits multiple strengths in its approach, employing a well-structured experimental methodology that combines genetic manipulations, behavioral assays, and molecular analysis to explore the impact of Ecdysone on regulating virgin female receptivity in Drosophila. The study provides clear and substantial findings, highlighting that removing PTTH, a positive Ecdysone regulator, increases virgin female receptivity. Additionally, the research expands into the temporal necessity of PTTH and Ecdysone function during development.

There are two important caveats with the data that are reflecting a weakness:

1-Contradictory Effects of Ecdysone and PTTH: One notable weakness in the data is the contrasting effects observed between Ecdysone and its positive regulator PTTH. PTTH loss of function increases female receptivity, while ecdysone loss of function reduces it. Given that PTTH positively regulates Ecdysone, one would expect that the loss of function of both would result in a similar phenotype or at least a consistent directional change.

2- Discordant Temporal Requirements for Ecdysone and PTTH: Another weakness lies in the different temporal requirements for Ecdysone and PTTH. The data from the manuscript suggest that PTTH is necessary during the larval stage, as shown in Figure 2 E-G, while Ecdysone is required during the pupal stage, as indicated in Figure 5 I-K. Ecdysone is a crucial developmental hormone with precisely regulated expression throughout development, exhibiting several peaks during both larval and pupal stages. PTTH is known to regulate Ecdysone during the larval stage, specifically by stimulating the kinetics of Ecdysone peaking at the wandering stage. However, it remains unclear whether pupal PTTH, expressed at higher levels during metamorphosis, can stimulate Ecdysone production during the pupal stage. Additionally, given the transient nature of the Ecdysone peak produced at wandering time, which disappears shortly before the end of the prepupal stage, it is challenging to infer that larval PTTH will regulate Ecdysone production during the pupal stage based on the current state of knowledge in the neuroendocrine field.

Considering these two caveats, the results suggest that the authors are witnessing distinct temporal and directional effects of Ecdysone on virgin female receptivity.

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

Summary: The authors tried to identify novel adult functions of the classical Drosophila juvenile-adult transition axis (i.e. ptth-ecdysone). Surprisingly, larval ptth-expressing neurons expressed the sex-specific doublesex gene, thus belonging to the sexual dimorphic circuit. Lack of ptth during late larval development caused enhanced female sexual receptivity, an effect rescued by supplying ecdysone in the food. Among many other cellular players, pC1 neurons control receptivity by encoding the mating status of females. Interestingly, during metamorphosis, a subtype of pC1 neurons required Ecdysone Receptor A in order to regulate such female receptivity. A transcriptomic analysis using pC1-specific Ecdyone signaling down-regulation gives some hints of possible downstream mechanisms.

Strengths: the manuscript showed solid genetic evidence that lack of ptth during development caused enhanced copulation rate in female flies, which includes ptth mutant rescue experiments by over-expressing ptth as well as by adding ecdysone-supplemented food. They also present elegant data dissecting the temporal requirements of ptth-expressing neurons by shifting animals from non-permissive to permissive temperatures, in order to inactivate neuronal function (although not exclusively ptth function). By combining different drivers together with a EcR-A RNAi line authors also identified the Ecdysone receptor requirements of a particular subtype of pC1 neurons during metamorphosis. Convincing live calcium imaging showed no apparent effect of EcR-A in neural activity, although some effect on morphology is uncovered. Finally, bulk RNAseq shows differential gene expression after EcR-A down-regulation.

Weaknesses: the paper has three main weaknesses. The first one refers to temporal requirements of ptth and ecdysone signaling. Whereas ptth is necessary during larval development, the ecdysone effect appears during pupal development. ptth induces ecdysone synthesis during larval development but there is no published evidence about a similar role for ptth during pupal stages. Furthermore, larval and pupal ecdysone functions are different (triggering metamorphosis vs tissue remodeling). The second caveat is the fact that ptth and ecdysone loss-of-function experiments render opposite effects (enhancing and decreasing copulation rates, respectively). The most plausible explanation is that both functions are independent of each other, also suggested by differential temporal requirements. Finally, in order to identify the effect in the transcriptional response of down-regulating EcR-A in a very small population of neurons, a scRNAseq study should have been performed instead of bulk RNAseq.

In summary, despite the authors providing convincing evidence that ptth and ecdysone signaling pathways are involved in female receptivity, the main claim that ptth regulates this process through ecdysone is not supported by results. More likely, they'd rather be independent processes.

Reviewer #3 (Public Review):

This manuscript shows that mutations that disable the gene encoding the PTTH gene cause an increase in female receptivity (they mate more quickly), a phenotype that can be reversed by feeding these mutants the molting hormone, 20-hydoxyecdysone (20E). The use of an inducible system reveals that inhibition or activation of PTTH neurons during the larval stages increases and decreases female receptivity, respectively, suggesting that PTTH is required during the larval stages to affect the receptivity of the (adult) female fly. Showing that these neurons express the sex-determining gene dsx leads the authors to show that interfering with 20E actions in pC1 neurons, which are dsx-positive neurons known to regulate female receptivity, reduces female receptivity and increases the arborization pattern of pC1 neurons. The work concludes by showing that targeted knockdown of EcRA in pC1 neurons causes 527 genes to be differentially expressed in the brains of female flies, of which 123 passed a false discovery rate cutoff of 0.01; interestingly, the gene showing the greatest down-regulation was the gene encoding dopamine beta-monooxygenase.

This is an interesting piece of work, which may shed light on the basis for the observation noted previously that flies lacking PTTH neurons show reproductive defects ("... females show reduced fecundity"; McBrayer, 2007; DOI 10.1016/j.devcel.2007.11.003).

There are some results whose interpretation seem ambiguous and findings whose causal relationship is implied but not demonstrated.
1- At some level, the findings reported here are not at all surprising. Since 20E regulates the profound changes that occur in the central nervous system (CNS) during metamorphosis, it is not surprising that PTTH would play a role in this process. Although animals lacking PTTH (rather paradoxically) live to adulthood, they do show greatly extended larval instars and a corresponding great delay in the 20E rise that signals the start of metamorphosis. For this reason, concluding that PTTH plays a SPECIFIC role in regulating female receptivity seems a little misleading, since the metamorphic remodeling of the entire CNS is likely altered in PTTH mutants. Since these mutants produce overall normal (albeit larger--due to their prolonged larval stages) adults, these alterations are likely to be subtle. Courtship has been reported as one defect expressed by animals lacking PTTH neurons, but this behavior may stand out because reduced fertility and increased male-male courtship (McBrayer, 2007) would be noticeable defects to researchers handling these flies. By contrast, detecting defects in other behaviors (e.g., optomotor responses, learning and memory, sleep, etc) would require closer examination. For this reason, I would ask the authors to temper their statement that PTTH is SPECIFICALLY involved in regulating female receptivity.
2- The link between PTTH and the role of pC1 neurons in regulating female receptivity is not clear. Again, since 20E controls the metamorphic changes that occur in the CNS, it is not surprising that 20E would regulate the arborization of pC1 neurons. And since these neurons have been implicated in female receptivity, it would therefore be expected that altering 20E signaling in pC1 neurons would affect this phenotype. However, this does not mean that the defects in female receptivity expressed by PTTH mutants are due to defects in pC1 arborization. For this, the authors would at least have to show that PTTH mutants show the changes in pC1 arborization shown in Fig. 6. And even then the most that could be said is that the changes observed in these neurons "may contribute" to the observed behavioral changes. Indeed, the changes observed in female receptivity may be caused by PTTH/20E actions on different neurons.
3- Some of the results need commenting on, or refining, or revising:
a- For some assays PTTH behaves sometimes like a recessive gene and at other times like a semi-dominant, and yet at others like a dominant gene. For instance, in Fig. 1D-G, PTTH[-]/+ flies behave like wildtype (D), express an intermediate phenotype (E-F), or behave like the mutant (G). This may all be correct but merits some comment.
b- Some of the conclusions are overstated. i) Although Fig. 2E-G does show that silencing the PTTH neurons during the larval stages affects copulation rate (E) the strength of the conclusion is tempered by the behavior of one of the controls (tub-GAL80[ts]/+, UAS-Kir2.1/+) in panels F and G, where it behaves essentially the same as the experimental group (and quite differently from the PTTH-GAL4/+ control; blue line).(Incidentally, the corresponding copulation latency should also be shown for these data.). ii) For Fig. 5I-K, the conclusion stated is that "Knock-down of EcR-A during pupal stage significantly decreased the copulation rate." Although strictly correct, the problem is that panel J is the only one for which the behavior of the control lacking the RNAi is not the same as that of the experimental group. Thus, it could just be that when the experiment was done at the pupal stage is the only situation when the controls were both different from the experimental. Again, the results shown in J are strictly speaking correct but the statement is too definitive given the behavior of one of the controls in panels I and K. Note also that panel F shows that the UAS-RNAi control causes a massive decrease in female fertility, yet no mention is made of this fact.

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  2. Wellcome Trust
  3. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  4. Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation