Larval cells become imaginal cells under the control of homothorax prior to metamorphosis in the Drosophila tracheal system

Dev Biol. 2008 Jun 15;318(2):247-57. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2008.03.025. Epub 2008 Mar 27.


In Drosophila melanogaster, one of the most derived species among holometabolous insects, undifferentiated imaginal cells that are set-aside during larval development are thought to proliferate and replace terminally differentiated larval cells to constitute adult structures. Essentially all tissues that undergo extensive proliferation and drastic morphological changes during metamorphosis are thought to derive from these imaginal cells and not from differentiated larval cells. The results of studies on metamorphosis of the Drosophila tracheal system suggested that large larval tracheal cells that are thought to be terminally differentiated may be eliminated via apoptosis and rapidly replaced by small imaginal cells that go on to form the adult tracheal system. However, the origin of the small imaginal tracheal cells has not been clear. Here, we show that large larval cells in tracheal metamere 2 (Tr2) divide and produce small imaginal cells prior to metamorphosis. In the absence of homothorax gene activity, larval cells in Tr2 become non-proliferative and small imaginal cells are not produced, indicating that homothorax is necessary for proliferation of Tr2 larval cells. These unexpected results suggest that larval cells can become imaginal cells and directly contribute to the adult tissue in the Drosophila tracheal system. During metamorphosis of less derived species of holometabolous insects, adult structures are known to be formed via cells constituting larval structures. Thus, the Drosophila tracheal system may utilize ancestral mode of metamorphosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / growth & development*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism*
  • Larva / cytology
  • Metamorphosis, Biological*
  • Respiratory System / cytology


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • hth protein, Drosophila