Here we describe a novel set of peptidergic neurons conserved throughout all developmental stages in the Drosophila central nervous system (CNS). We show that a small complement of 28 apterous-expressing cells (Ap-let neurons) in the ventral nerve cord (VNC) of Drosophila larvae co-express numerous gene products. The products include the neuroendocrine-specific bHLH regulator called Dimmed (Dimm), four neuropeptide biosynthetic enzymes (PC2, Fur1, PAL2, and PHM), and a specific dopamine receptor subtype (dDA1). For the PC2, Fur1, and PAL2 enzymes, and for the dDA1 receptor, this neuronal pattern represents the vast majority of their total expression in the VNC. In addition, while Dimm and PHM are present in the peritracheal Inka cells in larvae, pupae, and adults, Ap, PC2, Fur1, PAL2, and dDA1 are not. PC2, PAL2, and DA1 receptor expression were all controled by both dimm and ap. Previous genetic analysis of animals deficient in PC2 revealed an abnormal larval ecdysis phenotype. Together, these data support the hypothesis that the small cohort of Ap-let interneurons regulates larval ecdysis behavior by secretion of an unidentified amidated peptide(s). This hypothesis further predicts that the production of the Ap-let neuropeptide(s) is dependent on each of four specific enzymes, and that a certain aspect(s) of its production and/or release is regulated by dopamine input.
- Dopamine receptor