Phenotypic plasticity plays fundamental roles in successful adaptation of animals in response to environmental variations. Here, to reveal the transcriptome reprogramming in locust phase change, a typical phenotypic plasticity, we conducted a comprehensive analysis of multiple phase-related transcriptomic datasets of the migratory locust. We defined PhaseCore genes according to their contribution to phase differentiation by the adjustment for confounding principal components analysis algorithm (AC-PCA). Compared with other genes, PhaseCore genes predicted phase status with over 87.5% accuracy and displayed more unique gene attributes including the faster evolution rate, higher CpG content and higher specific expression level. Then, we identified 20 transcription factors (TFs) named PhaseCoreTF genes that are associated with the regulation of PhaseCore genes. Finally, we experimentally verified the regulatory roles of three representative TFs (Hr4, Hr46, and grh) in phase change by RNAi. Our findings revealed that core transcriptional signatures are involved in the global regulation of locust phase changes, suggesting a potential common mechanism underlying phenotypic plasticity in insects. The expression and network data are accessible in an online resource called LocustMine (http://www.locustmine.org:8080/locustmine).
Keywords: RNA interference; phenotypic plasticity; transcriptional regulatory network.