The Micrococcus luteus infection activates a novel melanization pathway of cSP10, cSP4, and cSP8 in Helicoverpa armigera

Insect Biochem Mol Biol. 2022 Aug;147:103775. doi: 10.1016/j.ibmb.2022.103775. Epub 2022 Jun 17.


Melanization is a key immune response mediated by serine protease (SP) cascade in insects. Multiple SP pathways exist in different species and it is unclear how conserved these cascades are. The cotton bollworm Helicoverpa armigera is a major worldwide agricultural pest. We reported a conserved melanization pathway in this species, which consists of SP41, cSP1, and cSP6. In this study, we attempted to identify an insect pathogen that elicits the cascade and test whether or not there are other SP cascades in H. armigera. After Micrococcus luteus, Enterobacter cloacae, Beauveria bassiana, or Helicoverpa armigera nucleopolyhedrovirus were injected into larvae, pathogen-induced hemolymph samples were collected for in vitro biochemical assays, which failed to detect proSP41 or procSP1 activation. In contrast, we found that procSP4, a protein proposed to participate in H. armigera melanization, was activated in M. luteus infected hemolymph. We further revealed that cSP8 was a prophenoloxidase (PPO) activating protease downstream of cSP4, and cSP4 was activated by cSP10. The pathway of cSP10-cSP4-cSP8 activated PPO in vitro. Efficiently cleaved procSPH11 and procSPH50 by cSP8 substantially enhanced phenoloxidase activity, suggesting they work together as a cofactor for cSP8 mediated PPO activation. Hemolymph from larvae challenged with M. luteus or its peptidoglycan effectively activated procSP10. Collectively, these results revealed a new PPO activation cascade specifically triggered by the bacterium. In addition, we found that the PPO activation cascades in H. armigera and Manduca sexta are conserved.

Keywords: Clip domain; Cotton bollworm; Insect immunity; Peptidoglycan; Prophenoloxidase activation; Serine protease cascade.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catechol Oxidase / metabolism
  • Enzyme Precursors / metabolism
  • Hemolymph / metabolism
  • Insect Proteins / metabolism
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Micrococcus luteus* / metabolism
  • Moths* / metabolism
  • Serine Endopeptidases
  • Serine Proteases / metabolism


  • Enzyme Precursors
  • Insect Proteins
  • Catechol Oxidase
  • Serine Proteases
  • Serine Endopeptidases