Evolution of nubbin function in hemimetabolous and holometabolous insect appendages

Dev Biol. 2011 Sep 1;357(1):83-95. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2011.06.014. Epub 2011 Jun 25.


Insects display a whole spectrum of morphological diversity, which is especially noticeable in the organization of their appendages. A recent study in a hemipteran, Oncopeltus fasciatus (milkweed bug), showed that nubbin (nub) affects antenna morphogenesis, labial patterning, the length of the femoral segment in legs, and the formation of a limbless abdomen. To further determine the role of this gene in the evolution of insect morphology, we analyzed its functions in two additional hemimetabolous species, Acheta domesticus (house cricket) and Periplaneta americana (cockroach), and re-examined its role in Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly). While both Acheta and Periplaneta nub-RNAi first nymphs develop crooked antennae, no visible changes are observed in the morphologies of their mouthparts and abdomen. Instead, the main effect is seen in legs. The joint between the tibia and first tarsomere (Ta-1) is lost in Acheta, which in turn, causes a fusion of these two segments and creates a chimeric nub-RNAi tibia-tarsus that retains a tibial identity in its proximal half and acquires a Ta-1 identity in its distal half. Similarly, our re-analysis of nub function in Drosophila reveals that legs lack all true joints and the fly tibia also exhibits a fused tibia and tarsus. Finally, we observe a similar phenotype in Periplaneta except that it encompasses different joints (coxa-trochanter and femur-tibia), and in this species we also show that nub expression in the legs is regulated by Notch signaling, as had previously been reported in flies and spiders. Overall, we propose that nub acts downstream of Notch on the distal part of insect leg segments to promote their development and growth, which in turn is required for joint formation. Our data represent the first functional evidence defining a role for nub in leg segmentation and highlight the varying degrees of its involvement in this process across insects.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Body Patterning* / genetics
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism
  • Extremities / embryology*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Homeodomain Proteins / physiology*
  • Insect Proteins / genetics
  • Insect Proteins / metabolism
  • Insect Proteins / physiology*
  • Insecta / embryology*
  • Insecta / genetics
  • RNA Interference


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Insect Proteins