Control Mechanisms of the Prophenoloxidase Cascade

  • Manickam Sugumaran
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 484)


Insects do not possess innnunoglobulins and other complicated immune proteins found in higher animals. However, they are equipped with a highly effective defense arsenal to protect themselves from invading parasites and other intruders. The hard armor like exoskeleton of insects affords the first line of defense by providing a physical barrier against the foreign organisms (Ashida & Brey, 1995; Sugumaran 1996,1998a). Once the cuticular barrier is surcumvented, the organisms entering the soft body of insects face a plethora of cellular and humoral host defense reactions. The response to the presence of non-self matter includes, phagocytocysis, nodule formation, encapsulation, melanization, and synthesis and secretion of antibacterial proteins (Hoffman et al., 1999; Gillespie et al., 1997; Södärhall et al., 1990; Sugumaran 1996). Organisms too large to be phagocytosed are usually found encapsulated and often melanized in the hemolymph of insects. Therefore, phenoloxidase (PO), the enzyme responsible for the biosynthesis of melanin is considered as an important component of insects’ immune system (Ashida & Yamazaki, 1990; Gillespie et a1.,1997; Sugumaran & Kanost 1993; Nappi & Sugumaran 1993; Soderhall et al., 1990). Interestingly, PO is not only involved in defense reactions, but also in a few other physiologically important and relevant processes. Cuticular sclerotization which is essential to the survival of all insects is initiated by PO (Sugumaran 1998a). The quinonoid products formed, are acted upon by other cuticular enzymes such as quinone isomerase and quinone methide isomerase. These enzymes in association with PO, generate a number of reactive intermediates that crosslinking structural proteins and chitin. These reactions render the cuticular proteins insoluble and eventually cause the hardening of cuticle. In the last process, viz., wound healing, massive amounts of hemolymph loss is partly prevented by the action of PO which rapidly deposits melanin pigment at the wounding site (Ashida & Brey 1995; Lai-Fook, 1966; Sugumaran 1996). In addition, PO generated quinones being cytotoxic, may play a critical role in killing opportunistically invading microorganisms at the wound site (Nappi & Sugumaran 1993; Sugumaran 1996).


Phenol Oxidase Cuticular Protein Phenoloxidase Activity Insect Immunity Prophenoloxidase Activation 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Manickam Sugumaran
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of Massachusetts Boston

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