Activation of insect phenoloxidase after injury: endogenous versus foreign elicitors

J Innate Immun. 2009;1(4):301-8. doi: 10.1159/000168009. Epub 2008 Oct 30.


The enzyme phenoloxidase (PO) is one of the first immune molecules that was identified in invertebrates. Recently, the immune function of PO has been challenged. We tested how PO is activated following injury in 2 insects, i.e. the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and the wax moth Galleria mellonella. Rapid PO activation in Drosophila was limited to discrete areas of the hemolymph clot which forms after injury. Surprisingly, unlike systemic PO activation during bacterial sepsis, clot melanization was not sensitive to microbial elicitors in our assay. Instead, Drosophila clot melanization was activated by endogenous signals such as apoptotic cells and was superinduced by phosphatidylserine, a negatively charged phospholipid normally found on the inner surface of the plasma membrane and exposed during apoptosis. In contrast, melanization in G. mellonella hemolymph was stronger and more uniform and was sensitive to peptidoglycan. This shows that both exogenous and endogenous signals can trigger the same immune mechanism in species- and context-dependent ways. Our findings have implications for the evolutionary dynamics of immune mechanisms and are in agreement with recent comparisons of insect immune transcriptomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Blood Coagulation / immunology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / enzymology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / immunology*
  • Hemolymph / enzymology
  • Hemolymph / immunology*
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics
  • Larva / enzymology
  • Larva / immunology
  • Melanins / immunology
  • Melanins / metabolism
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / immunology*
  • Moths / enzymology
  • Moths / immunology*
  • Peptidoglycan / immunology
  • Phosphatidylserines / immunology


  • Melanins
  • Peptidoglycan
  • Phosphatidylserines
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase