Genome-wide analysis identifies Homothorax and Extradenticle as regulators of insulin in Drosophila Insulin-Producing cells

PLoS Genet. 2022 Sep 12;18(9):e1010380. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1010380. eCollection 2022 Sep.


Drosophila Insulin-Producing Cells (IPCs) are the main production site of the Drosophila Insulin-like peptides or dilps which have key roles in regulating growth, development, reproduction, lifespan and metabolism. To better understand the signalling pathways and transcriptional networks that are active in the IPCs we queried publicly available transcriptome data of over 180 highly inbred fly lines for dilp expression and used dilp expression as the input for a Genome-wide association study (GWAS). This resulted in the identification of variants in 125 genes that were associated with variation in dilp expression. The function of 57 of these genes in the IPCs was tested using an RNAi-based approach. We found that IPC-specific depletion of most genes resulted in differences in expression of one or more of the dilps. We then elaborated further on one of the candidate genes with the strongest effect on dilp expression, Homothorax, a transcription factor known for its role in eye development. We found that Homothorax and its binding partner Extradenticle are involved in regulating dilp2, -3 and -5 expression and that genetic depletion of both TFs shows phenotypes associated with reduced insulin signalling. Furthermore, we provide evidence that other transcription factors involved in eye development are also functional in the IPCs. In conclusion, we showed that this expression level-based GWAS approach identified genetic regulators implicated in IPC function and dilp expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila Proteins* / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / metabolism
  • Drosophila* / genetics
  • Drosophila* / metabolism
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Insulin / genetics
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Insulin
  • Transcription Factors