Bursicon, the Tanning Hormone of Insects: Recent Advances Following the Discovery of Its Molecular Identity

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2008 Dec;194(12):989-1005. doi: 10.1007/s00359-008-0386-3. Epub 2008 Nov 13.


Bursicon was identified in 1965 as a peptide neurohormone that initiates the tanning of the insect cuticle immediately after the shedding of the old one during the final stages of the molting process. Its molecular identity as an approximately 30 kDa bioactive heterodimer consisting of two cystine knot proteins resisted elucidation for 43 years. The sequence of the two bursicon subunits is highly conserved among arthropods, and this conservation extends even to echinoderms. We review the efforts leading to bursicon's characterization, the identification of its leucine-rich repeat-containing, G protein-coupled receptor (LGR2), and the progress towards revealing its various functions. It is now clear that bursicon regulates different aspects of wing inflation in Drosophila melanogaster besides being involved at various points in the cuticle tanning process in different insects. We also describe the current knowledge of the expression of bursicon in the central nervous system of different insects in large homologous neurosecretory cells, and the changes in its expression during the development of Manduca sexta and D. melanogaster. Although much remains to be learned, the elucidation of its molecular identity and that of its receptor has provided the breakthrough needed for investigating the diverse actions of this critical insect neurohormone.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Arthropods / genetics
  • Arthropods / growth & development
  • Arthropods / physiology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cystine Knot Motifs
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Drosophila / growth & development
  • Drosophila / physiology
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / metabolism
  • Insecta / genetics*
  • Insecta / growth & development
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Invertebrate Hormones / chemistry*
  • Invertebrate Hormones / genetics
  • Invertebrate Hormones / isolation & purification
  • Invertebrate Hormones / physiology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neuropeptides / chemistry
  • Neuropeptides / genetics
  • Neuropeptides / isolation & purification
  • Neuropeptides / physiology
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide / genetics
  • Wings, Animal / growth & development


  • Invertebrate Hormones
  • Neuropeptides
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide
  • bursicon