Researchers discover mechanism that regulates steroid hormone production in Drosophila

March 7, 2013
Bantam mutant animals (right) show reduced body size as a result of abnormally high steroid hormone levels. Credit: © M. Milán lab, IRB Barcelona. Author: Laura Boulan

Looking at the transformation of a fly larva into a pupa may help researchers to understand the molecular mechanisms that trigger puberty. A study conducted on the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, by scientists at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) led by ICREA research professor Marco Milán, identifies an miRNA as key to the relationship between hormones that control growth and sexual maturity.

According to Milán, "accelerated growth or obesity can provoke premature puberty in humans, harming their development – and this is a growing problem in Western societies. Today, physicians know very little about the molecular mechanisms behind premature puberty, and Drosophila is providing us with our first hints." has published the study today online.

The study, whose first author, Laura Boulan, is a french PhD student within the "la Caixa" International PhD Programme at IRB Barcelona, pulled apart the phases of development in the fly to reveal a delicate dialogue between growth and maturity, and found that it is regulated by the activity of an called bantam. The team discovered that insulin, a hormone involved in metabolism and growth, reduces the levels of bantam present in the cells. Reduced levels of bantam lead to an increase in levels. "This increase in steroid hormones causes growth to stop," says Milán. Though the relationship between metabolism, growth and puberty is already known, this study has identified for the first time the molecular mechanism that determines this relationship and has pinpointed bantam as a key mediator in the dialogue between the hormones involved.

The fly prothoracic gland (in green) produces steroid hormones. Credit: M. Milán lab, IRB Barcelona. Author: Laura Boulan Credit: © M. Milán lab, IRB Barcelona. Author: Laura Boulan

These findings may be relevant to if elements homologous to those found in flies can be identified in people. "Premature slows down growth, preventing adults from developing properly," says Boulan. Despite the differences between the fruit fly and humans, this study represents an important step forward. The high degree of genetic similarity and the conservation of many between the two species allow researchers to model many complex phenomena in flies, or worms, and then look to see if they correspond to what they see in other more complex models, including humans.

"By beginning to identify these elements in Drosophila, researchers will be able to make much faster progress in their efforts to discover new drugs to prevent and treat premature puberty," concludes Milán.

Explore further: Fruit Flies, Death, and Immunity

More information: Current Biology (2013). doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.01.072

Related Stories

Fruit Flies, Death, and Immunity

March 28, 2007

University of Arkansas scientists have found an important mechanism that regulates the destruction of larval fruit fly salivary glands that could point the way to understanding programmed cell death in the human immune system.

A new system for collaboration in cell communication

June 26, 2007

Investigators from the Institute of Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) have identified a new signalling mechanism among cells in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. The researchers found that two independent groups ...

Control gene for developmental timing discovered

September 28, 2011

University of Alberta researchers have identified a key regulator that controls the speed of development in the fruit fly. When the researchers blocked the function of this regulator, animals sped up their rate of development ...

Recommended for you

'Hog-nosed rat' discovered in Indonesia

October 6, 2015

Museum of Natural Science Curator of Mammals Jake Esselstyn at Louisiana State University and his international collaborators have discovered a new genus and species on a remote, mountainous island in Indonesia. This new ...

Most EU nations seek to bar GM crops

October 4, 2015

Nineteen of the 28 EU member states have applied to keep genetically modified crops out of all or part of their territory, the bloc's executive arm said Sunday, the deadline for opting out of new European legislation on GM ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.