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Open Access Research article

Structural analysis of eyespots: dynamics of morphogenic signals that govern elemental positions in butterfly wings

Joji M Otaki

Author Affiliations

The BCPH Unit of Molecular Physiology, Department of Chemistry, Biology and Marine Science, Faculty of Science, University of the Ryukyus, Nishihara, Okinawa, 903-0213, Japan

BMC Systems Biology 2012, 6:17  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-6-17

Published: 13 March 2012

Abstract

Background

To explain eyespot colour-pattern determination in butterfly wings, the induction model has been discussed based on colour-pattern analyses of various butterfly eyespots. However, a detailed structural analysis of eyespots that can serve as a foundation for future studies is still lacking. In this study, fundamental structural rules related to butterfly eyespots are proposed, and the induction model is elaborated in terms of the possible dynamics of morphogenic signals involved in the development of eyespots and parafocal elements (PFEs) based on colour-pattern analysis of the nymphalid butterfly Junonia almana.

Results

In a well-developed eyespot, the inner black core ring is much wider than the outer black ring; this is termed the inside-wide rule. It appears that signals are wider near the focus of the eyespot and become narrower as they expand. Although fundamental signal dynamics are likely to be based on a reaction-diffusion mechanism, they were described well mathematically as a type of simple uniformly decelerated motion in which signals associated with the outer and inner black rings of eyespots and PFEs are released at different time points, durations, intervals, and initial velocities into a two-dimensional field of fundamentally uniform or graded resistance; this produces eyespots and PFEs that are diverse in size and structure. The inside-wide rule, eyespot distortion, structural differences between small and large eyespots, and structural changes in eyespots and PFEs in response to physiological treatments were explained well using mathematical simulations. Natural colour patterns and previous experimental findings that are not easily explained by the conventional gradient model were also explained reasonably well by the formal mathematical simulations performed in this study.

Conclusions

In a mode free from speculative molecular interactions, the present study clarifies fundamental structural rules related to butterfly eyespots, delineates a theoretical basis for the induction model, and proposes a mathematically simple mode of long-range signalling that may reflect developmental mechanisms associated with butterfly eyespots.

Keywords:
Butterfly wing; Colour-pattern determination; Eyespot; Parafocal element; Induction model; Morphogenic signal