Stem cells are highly abundant during early development but become a rare population in most adult organs. The molecular mechanisms causing stem cells to exit proliferation at a specific time are not well understood. Here, we show that changes in energy metabolism induced by the steroid hormone ecdysone and the Mediator initiate an irreversible cascade of events leading to cell-cycle exit in Drosophila neural stem cells. We show that the timely induction of oxidative phosphorylation and the mitochondrial respiratory chain are required in neuroblasts to uncouple the cell cycle from cell growth. This results in a progressive reduction in neuroblast cell size and ultimately in terminal differentiation. Brain tumor mutant neuroblasts fail to undergo this shrinkage process and continue to proliferate until adulthood. Our findings show that cell size control can be modified by systemic hormonal signaling and reveal a unique connection between metabolism and proliferation in stem cells.
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