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Steroid hormones organize many aspects of development, including that of the nervous system. Steroids also play neuromodulatory and other activational roles, including regulation of sensitivity to painful stimuli in mammals. In Drosophila, ecdysteroids are the only steroid hormones, and therefore the fly represents a simplified model system in which to explore mechanisms of steroid neuromodulation of nociception. In this report, we present evidence that ecdysteroids, acting through two isoforms of their nuclear ecdysone receptor (EcR), modulate sensitivity to noxious thermal and mechanical stimuli in the fly larva. We show that EcRA and EcRB1 are expressed by third instar larvae in the primary nociceptor neurons, known as the class IV multidendritic neurons. Suppression of EcRA by RNA interference in these cells leads to hyposensitivity to noxious stimulation. Suppression of EcRB1 leads to reduction of dendritic branching and length of nociceptor neurons. We show that specific isoforms of the ecdysone receptor play critical cell autonomous roles in modulating the sensitivity of nociceptor neurons and may indicate human orthologs that represent targets for novel analgesic drugs.


This article was originally published in PLOS ONE:

McParland AL, Follansbee TL, Vesenka GD, Panaitiu AE, Ganter GK (2015) Steroid Receptor Isoform Expression in Drosophila Nociceptor Neurons Is Required for Normal Dendritic Arbor and Sensitivity. PLoS ONE 10(10): e0140785. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0140785

Authors Aidan L. McParland and Taylor L. Follansbee conducted this research as University of New England students.