Functional analyses of tiptop and antennapedia in the embryonic development of Oncopeltus fasciatus suggests an evolutionary pathway from ground state to insect legs

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In insects, selector genes are thought to modify the development of a default, or 'ground state', appendage into a tagma-specific appendage such as a mouthpart, antenna or leg. In the best described example, Drosophila melanogaster, the primary determination of leg identity is thought to result from regulatory interactions between the Hox genes and the antennal-specifying gene homothorax. Based on RNA-interference, a functional analysis of the selector gene tiptop and the Hox gene Antennapedia in Oncopeltus fasciatus embryogenesis is presented. It is shown that, in O. fasciatus, tiptop is required for the segmentation of distal leg segments and is required to specify the identity of the leg. The distal portions of legs with reduced tiptop develop like antennae. Thus, tiptop can act as a regulatory switch that chooses between antennal and leg identity. By contrast, Antennapedia does not act as a switch between leg and antennal identity. This observation suggests a significant difference in the mechanism of leg specification between O. fasciatus and D. melanogaster. These observations also suggest a significant plasticity in the mechanism of leg specification during insect evolution that is greater than would have been expected based on strictly morphological or molecular comparisons. Finally, it is proposed that a tiptop-like activity is a likely component of an ancestral leg specification mechanism. Incorporating a tiptop-like activity into a model of the leg-specification mechanism explains several mutant phenotypes, previously described in D. melanogaster, and suggests a mechanism for the evolution of legs from a ground state.

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Development (Cambridge, England)

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