The steroid molting hormone Ecdysone regulates sleep in adult Drosophila melanogaster

Genetics. 2010 May;185(1):269-81. doi: 10.1534/genetics.110.114587. Epub 2010 Mar 9.


Ecdysone is the major steroid hormone in insects and plays essential roles in coordinating developmental transitions such as larval molting and metamorphosis through its active metabolite 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E). Although ecdysone is present throughout life in both males and females, its functions in adult physiology remain largely unknown. In this study we demonstrate that ecdysone-mediated signaling in the adult is intimately involved in transitions between the physiological states of sleep and wakefulness. First, administering 20E to adult Drosophila melanogaster promoted sleep in a dose-dependent manner, and it did so primarily by altering the length of sleep and wake bouts without affecting waking activity. Second, mutants for ecdysone synthesis displayed the "short-sleep phenotype," and this was alleviated by administering 20E at the adult stage. Third, mutants for nuclear ecdysone receptors showed reduced sleep, and conditional overexpression of wild-type ecdysone receptors in the adult mushroom bodies resulted in an isoform-specific increase in sleep. Finally, endogenous ecdysone levels increased after sleep deprivation, and mutants defective for ecdysone signaling displayed little sleep rebound, suggesting that ecdysone is involved in homeostatic sleep regulation. In light of the recent finding that lethargus--a period at larval-stage transitions in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans--is a sleep-like state, our results suggest that sleep is functionally and mechanistically linked to a genetically programmed, quiescent behavioral state during development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / drug effects
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Drosophila melanogaster / drug effects
  • Drosophila melanogaster / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Ecdysone / metabolism*
  • Ecdysterone / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Heterozygote
  • Homeostasis / drug effects
  • Molting / drug effects
  • Molting / physiology*
  • Mushroom Bodies / drug effects
  • Mushroom Bodies / metabolism
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Receptors, Steroid / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Sleep / drug effects
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Protein Isoforms
  • Receptors, Steroid
  • ecdysone receptor
  • Ecdysone
  • Ecdysterone