The Malpighian tubule: rapid insights from post-genomic biology

J Insect Physiol. 2006 Apr;52(4):365-78. doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2005.10.007. Epub 2005 Nov 28.


Good osmoregulation is critical to the success of insects, and the Malpighian tubules play a key role in osmoregulation. Recently, the application of genetics and genomics to the Drosophila tubule has revealed far more extensive roles than ion and water transport. Microarray analysis shows that organic solute transporters dominate the tubule transcriptome. The tubule thus has the capability to excrete actively the broadest range of organic solutes and xenobiotics. Such transporters can produce unexpected, emergent roles for the whole tissue; e.g. the tubule is highly resistant to ouabain not because the Na+, K+ ATPase is unimportant, but because it co-localises with a potent alkaloid excretory mechanism. Reinforcing this role in excretion, the tubule expresses very high levels of a particular cytochrome P450s, glutathione-S-transferases and alcohol dehydrogenases which suggest that the tubule plays a major role in metabolism and detoxification of both endogenous solutes and xenobiotics, such as insecticides. Additionally, the tubule plays a significant role in immunity; tubules are capable of sensing bacterial challenge, and mounting an effective killing response by secretion of antimicrobial peptides, entirely independent of the fat body, the canonical immune tissue. The tubule has also proved to be a good model for some human renal disease, and to act as an organotypic 'testbed' for mammalian genes. The tubule can thus bask in a greatly enhanced reputation as a key tissue for an unexpectedly wide range of functions in the insect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Drosophila / physiology
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Genes, Insect
  • Inactivation, Metabolic
  • Insecta / genetics
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Kidney Diseases / genetics
  • Malpighian Tubules / immunology
  • Malpighian Tubules / metabolism
  • Malpighian Tubules / physiology*
  • Ouabain / metabolism
  • Phenotype


  • Ouabain