During insect metamorphosis, pulses of the steroid hormone 20-hydroxyecdysone (ecdysone) direct the destruction of obsolete larval tissues and their replacement by tissues and structures that form the adult fly. We show here that larval midgut and salivary gland histolysis are stage-specific steroid-triggered programmed cell death responses. Dying larval midgut and salivary gland cell nuclei become permeable to the vital dye acridine orange and their DNA undergoes fragmentation, indicative of apoptosis. Furthermore, the histolysis of these tissues can be inhibited by ectopic expression of the baculovirus anti-apoptotic protein p35, implicating a role for caspases in the death response. Coordinate stage-specific induction of the Drosophila death genes reaper (rpr) and head involution defective (hid) immediately precedes the destruction of the larval midgut and salivary gland. In addition, the diap2 anti-cell death gene is repressed in larval salivary glands as rpr and hid are induced, suggesting that the death of this tissue is under both positive and negative regulation. Finally, diap2 is repressed by ecdysone in cultured salivary glands under the same conditions that induce rpr expression and trigger programmed cell death. These studies indicate that ecdysone directs the death of larval tissues via the precise stage- and tissue-specific regulation of key death effector genes.

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