In insects, the ecdysteroids act to transform the CNS from its larval to its adult form. A key gene in this response is the ecdysone receptor (EcR), which has been shown in Drosophila to code for 3 protein isoforms. Two of these isoforms, EcR-A and EcR-B1, are prominently expressed in the CNS and we have used isoform-specific antibodies to examine their fluctuations through postembryonic life. EcR expression at the onset of metamorphosis is extremely diverse but specific patterns of EcR expression correlate with distinct patterns of steroid response. Most larval neurons show high levels of EcR-B1 at the start of metamorphosis, a time when they lose larval features in response to ecdysteroids. Earlier, during the larval molts, the same cells have no detectable receptors and show no response to circulating ecdysteroids; later, during the pupal-adult transformation, they switch to EcR-A expression and respond by maturing to their adult form. During the latter period, a subset of the larval neurons hyperexpress EcR-A and these cells are fated to die after the emergence of the adult. The stem cells for the imaginal neurons show prominent EcR-B1 expression during the last larval stage correlated with their main proliferative period. Most imaginal neurons, by contrast, express only EcR-A when they subsequently initiate maturation at the start of metamorphosis. The imaginal neurons of the mushroom bodies are unusual amongst imaginal neurons in expressing the B1 isoform at the start of metamorphosis but they also show regressive changes at this time as they lose their larval axons. Imaginal neurons of the optic lobe show a delayed expression of EcR-B1 through the period when cell-cell interactions are important for establishing connections within this region of the CNS. Overall, the appearance of the two receptor isoforms in cells correlates with different types of steroid responses: EcR-A predominates when cells are undergoing maturational responses whereas EcR-B1 predominates during proliferative activity or regressive responses. The heterogeneity of EcR expression at the start of metamorphosis presumably reflects the diverse origins and requirements of the neurons that nevertheless are all exposed to a common hormonal signal.

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