Metamorphosis in Drosophila is triggered by a pulse of the steroid hormone ecdysone at the end of larval development. Ecdysone initiates a genetic hierarchy that can be visualized as a series of puffs in the larval salivary gland polytene chromosomes. The E74 gene is responsible for the early ecdysone-inducible puff at position 74EF and encodes two related DNA-binding proteins which appear to play a regulatory role in the hierarchy. Here we describe the spatial and temporal patterns of E74A RNA and protein expression at the onset of metamorphosis. We use in situ hybridization, antibody stains, and western and northern blot analyses to follow E74A expression from its initial appearance as nascent transcripts on the polytene chromosomes, to spliced mRNA, to post-translationally modified nuclear E74A protein. E74A is expressed in a wide variety of late-third instar tissues, suggesting that it plays a broad pleiotropic role in response to the hormone. In early prepupae, when the overall levels of E74A mRNA are decreasing, relatively high levels of E74A RNA persist in the gut, peripodial membranes of the imaginal discs, and proliferation centers of the brain. The spatial distribution of nuclear E74A protein correlates with the RNA distribution with the single exception that no E74A protein can be detected in the proliferation centers of the brain. There is also a temporal discrepancy between E74A mRNA and protein accumulation. The peak of E74A protein induced by the late larval ecdysone pulse follows the peak of E74A mRNA by approximately 2 h. This delay is not seen in 10 h prepupae, when the next pulse of ecdysone induces the simultaneous expression of E74A mRNA and protein. We discuss possible mechanisms for post-transcriptional regulation of E74A expression and suggest that the unusually long and complex 5′ leader in the E74A mRNA may regulate its translation.

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