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Open Access Research article

Genome-wide examination of the transcriptional response to ecdysteroids 20-hydroxyecdysone and ponasterone A in Drosophila melanogaster

Sarah E Gonsalves1, Scott J Neal2, Amy S Kehoe3 and J Timothy Westwood1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Cell & Systems Biology, University of Toronto, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

2 Department of Biology, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA

3 Nematology Unit, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:475  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-475

Published: 29 September 2011



The 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E) hierarchy of gene activation serves as an attractive model system for studying the mode of steroid hormone regulated gene expression and development. Many structural analogs of 20E exist in nature and among them the plant-derived ponasterone A (PoA) is the most potent. PoA has a higher affinity for the 20E nuclear receptor, composed of the ecysone receptor (EcR) and Ultraspiracle proteins, than 20E and a comparison of the genes regulated by these hormones has not been performed. Furthermore, in Drosophila different cell types elicit different morphological responses to 20E yet the cell type specificity of the 20E transcriptional response has not been examined on a genome-wide scale. We aim to characterize the transcriptional response to 20E and PoA in Drosophila Kc cells and to 20E in salivary glands and provide a robust comparison of genes involved in each response.


Our genome-wide microarray analysis of Kc167 cells treated with 20E or PoA revealed that far more genes are regulated by PoA than by 20E (256 vs 148 respectively) and that there is very little overlap between the transcriptional responses to each hormone. Interestingly, genes induced by 20E relative to PoA are enriched in functions related to development. We also find that many genes regulated by 20E in Kc167 cells are not regulated by 20E in salivary glands of wandering 3rd instar larvae and we show that 20E-induced levels of EcR isoforms EcR-RA, ER-RC, and EcR-RD/E differ between Kc cells and salivary glands suggesting a possible cause for the observed differences in 20E-regulated gene transcription between the two cell types.


We report significant differences in the transcriptional responses of 20E and PoA, two steroid hormones that differ by only a single hydroxyl group. We also provide evidence that suggests that PoA induced death of non-adapted insects may be related to PoA regulating different set of genes when compared to 20E. In addition, we reveal large differences between Kc cells and salivary glands with regard to their genome-wide transcriptional response to 20E and show that the level of induction of certain EcR isoforms differ between Kc cells and salivary glands. We hypothesize that the differences in the transcriptional response may in part be due to differences in the EcR isoforms present in different cell types.