Respecification of larval proleg motoneurons during metamorphosis of the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta: segmental dependence and hormonal regulation

J Neurobiol. 1989 Sep;20(6):569-92. doi: 10.1002/neu.480200605.


The principal locomotory appendages of the Manduca sexta caterpillar, the prolegs, are present on the third through sixth abdominal segments (anal prolegs located on the terminal segment were not included in this study). Previous studies have characterized some of the proleg retractor muscles and their motoneurons. In the present study we identified additional proleg motoneurons and their putative homologs in the non-proleg-bearing segments. One of the motoneurons present in the proleg-bearing segments is absent in the non-proleg-bearing segments. At pupation the prolegs are lost, their muscles degenerate, and some of their motoneurons regress structurally. Subsequently, subsets of the proleg motoneurons and their homologs in other segments die in a segment-specific pattern. This is the first report of segment-specific motoneurons, and of segment-specific death of identified motoneurons, in Manduca. During adult development the surviving proleg motoneurons innervate the tergosternal muscle (TSM) and grow bilateral dendritic arbors. Dendritic growth is completed by about the 12th of the 18 days of adult development. Following adult emergence all but one of the respecified proleg motoneurons dies. The hormonal dependence of dendritic outgrowth was tested by isolating abdomens to eliminate the ecdysteroid-secreting glands in the thorax. Between the second and fifth days after pupation the motoneurons became progressively more competent to undergo dendritic outgrowth following abdomen isolation. The extent of dendritic outgrowth paralleled the degree of morphological development attained by isolated abdomens. It is concluded that ecdysteroids are required for motoneuron outgrowth, but our findings suggest that, unless an abdominal source of ecdysteroids exists in pupae, a relatively small exposure may be sufficient.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ganglia / physiology
  • Invertebrate Hormones / physiology*
  • Larva / physiology
  • Lepidoptera / growth & development*
  • Metamorphosis, Biological*
  • Moths / growth & development*
  • Moths / physiology
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Muscles / innervation
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Pupa / physiology


  • Invertebrate Hormones