In insects, initiation of metamorphosis requires a surge in the production of the steroid hormone 20-hydroxyecdysone from the prothoracic gland, the primary endocrine organ of juvenile larvae. Here, we show that blocking TGFβ/Activin signaling, specifically in the Drosophila prothoracic gland, results in developmental arrest prior to metamorphosis. The terminal, giant third instar larval phenotype results from a failure to induce the large rise in ecdysteroid titer that triggers metamorphosis. We further demonstrate that activin signaling regulates competence of the prothoracic gland to receive PTTH and insulin signals, and that these two pathways act at the mRNA and post-transcriptional levels, respectively, to control ecdysone biosynthetic enzyme expression. This dual regulatory circuitry may provide a cross-check mechanism to ensure that both developmental and nutritional inputs are synchronized before initiating the final genetic program leading to reproductive adult development. As steroid hormone production in C. elegans and mammals is also influenced by TGFβ/Activin signaling, this family of secreted factors may play a general role in regulating developmental transitions across phyla.
- Prothoracic gland