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Roles of dopa decarboxylase and phenoloxidase in the melanization of the tobacco hornworm and their control by 20-hydroxyecdysone

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WhenManduca sexta larvae are allatectomized 5 h before head capsule slippage (HCS) in the final larval molt, the new larval cuticle contains granules that melanize 3 h before ecdysis when the ecdysteroid titer falls (Curtis et al. 1984). In both the epidermis and hemolymph of these allatectomized larvae dopamine was higher than dopa prior to and at the time of melanization. Dopamine also increased in the new cuticle as melanization began. Dopa decarboxylase (DDC) activity increased in the epidermis, cuticle, and fat body beginning 16 h after HCS, with a two-fold greater increase in the epidermis of allatectomized larvae. Both α-MDH and α-fluoromethyl-dopa inhibited epidermal DDC activity and inhibited melanization in vitro when dopa was used as a precursor. Addition of dopamine to the medium allowed melanization in the presence of the inhibitors. All these results indicate that dopamine is likely the primary precursor of cuticular melanin. The diphenoloxidase in the premelanin granules was activated in vivo between 19 and 21 h after HCS and was found to prefer dopamine to dopa and not to convert tyrosine to melanin. The activation of the prophenoloxidase was inhibited by 20-hydroxyecdysone (20-HE), both in vivo and in vitro, if hormone was given by 16 h after HCS. Infusion of 1.2 μg/ml 20-HE into allatectomized larvae for 24 h from HCS prevented both the increase in DDC activity and the activation of the premelanin granules. Although the larvae ecdysed after a 15 h delay, melanization never occurred.

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α-MDH :

L-3-(3,4 dihydroxyphenyl)-2-hydrazine-methylpropionic acid

α-FM-dopa :



dopa decarboxylase

20-HE :


JH :

juvenile hormone


head capsule slippage


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Hiruma, K., Riddiford, L.M., Hopkins, T.L. et al. Roles of dopa decarboxylase and phenoloxidase in the melanization of the tobacco hornworm and their control by 20-hydroxyecdysone. J Comp Physiol B 155, 659–669 (1985). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00694579

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  • Dopamine
  • Tyrosine
  • Human Physiology
  • Great Increase
  • Dopa