Patterning of the branched head appendages in Schistocerca americana and Tribolium castaneum. Academic Article uri icon


  • Much of our understanding of arthropod limb development comes from studies on the leg imaginal disc of Drosophila melanogaster. The fly limb is a relatively simple unbranched (uniramous) structure extending out from the body wall. The molecular basis for this outgrowth involves the overlap of two signaling molecules, Decapentaplegic (Dpp) and Wingless (Wg), to create a single domain of distal outgrowth, clearly depicted by the expression of the Distal-less gene (Dll). The expression of wg and dpp during the development of other arthropod thoracic limbs indicates that these pathways might be conserved across arthropods for uniramous limb development. The appendages of crustaceans and the gnathal appendages of insects, however, exhibit a diverse array of morphologies, ranging from those with no distal elements, such as the mandible, to appendages with multiple distal elements. Examples of the latter group include branched appendages or those that possess multiple lobes; such complex morphologies are seen for many crustacean limbs as well as the maxillary and labial appendages of many insects. It is unclear how, if at all, the known patterning genes for making a uniramous limb might be deployed to generate these diverse appendage forms. Experiments in Drosophila have shown that by forcing ectopic overlaps of Wg and Dpp signaling it is possible to generate artificially branched legs. To test whether naturally branched appendages form in a similar manner, we detailed the expression patterns of wg, dpp, and Dll in the development of the branched gnathal appendages of the grasshopper, Schistocerca americana, and the flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum. We find that the branches of the gnathal appendages are not specified through the redeployment of the Wg-Dpp system for distal outgrowth, but our comparative studies do suggest a role for Dpp in forming furrows between tissues.

publication date

  • November 2004