Temporal and spatial expression of the yellow gene in correlation with cuticle formation and dopa decarboxylase activity in Drosophila development

Dev Biol. 1991 Sep;147(1):32-45. doi: 10.1016/s0012-1606(05)80005-3.


The yellow (y) gene of Drosophila is required for the formation of black melanin and its deposition in the cuticle. We have studied by immunohistochemical methods the temporal and spatial distribution of the protein product of the y gene during embryonic and pupal development and have correlated its expression with events of cuticle synthesis by the epidermal cells and with cuticle sclerotization. Except for expression in early embryos, the y protein is only found in the epidermal cells and may be secreted into the cuticle as it is being deposited. The amount of y protein in various regions of the embryo and pupa correlates directly with the intensity of melanization over any section of the epidermis. Expression of the y gene begins in the epidermal cells at 48 hr after pupariation and is well correlated with the beginning deposition of the adult cuticle. At this stage the adult cuticle is unsclerotized and unpigmented and dopa decarboxylase levels, a key enzyme in catecholamine metabolism which provides the crosslinking agents as well as the precursors for melanin, is low. As a separate event 26 hr after the onset of y gene expression, the first melanin deposition occurs in the head bristles and pigmentation continues in an anterior to posterior progression until eclosion. This melanization wave is correlated with elevated dopa decarboxylase activity. Crosslinking of the adult cuticle also occurs in a similar anterior to posterior progression at about the same time. We have shown by imaginal disc transplantation that timing of cuticle sclerotization depends on the position of the tissue along the anterior-posterior axis and that it is not an inherent feature of the discs themselves. We suggest that actual melanization and sclerotization of the cuticle by crosslinking are initiated at this time in pupal development by the availability of the catecholamine substrates which diffuse into the cuticle. Intensity of melanization and position of melanin pigment is determined by the presence or absence of the y protein in the cuticle, thus converting the y protein prepattern into the melanization pattern.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Dopa Decarboxylase / metabolism*
  • Drosophila / embryology
  • Drosophila / enzymology
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Drosophila / growth & development*
  • Drosophila Proteins*
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / physiology
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Gene Expression
  • Insect Hormones / analysis
  • Insect Hormones / genetics*
  • Molecular Weight
  • Pupa
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / analysis
  • Restriction Mapping


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Insect Hormones
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • y protein, Drosophila
  • Dopa Decarboxylase