RNAi-mediated knockdown of juvenile hormone acid O-methyltransferase gene causes precocious metamorphosis in the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum

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Juvenile hormone controls the timing of insect metamorphosis. As a final step of juvenile hormone biosynthesis, juvenile hormone acid O-methyltransferase (JHAMT) transfers the methyl group from S-adenosyl-L-methionine to the carboxyl group of farnesoic acid and juvenile hormone acid. The developmental expression profiles of JHAMT mRNA in the silkworm Bombyx mori and the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster suggest that the suppression of JHAMT transcription is critical for the induction of larval–pupal metamorphosis, but genetic evidence for JHAMT function in vivo is missing. In this study, we identified three methyltransferase genes in the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum (TcMT1, TcMT2 and TcMT3) that are homologous to JHAMT of Bombyx and Drosophila. Of these three methyltransferase genes, TcMT3 mRNA was present continuously from the embryonic stage to the final larval instar, became undetectable before pupation, and increased again in the adult stage. TcMT3 mRNA was localized in the larval corpora allata. Recombinant TcMT3 protein methylated farnesoic acid and juvenile hormone III acid, but TcMT1 and TcMT2 proteins did not. Furthermore, RNA interference-mediated knockdown of TcMT3 in the larval stage resulted in precocious larval–pupal metamorphosis, whereas knockdown of either TcMT1 or TcMT2 showed no visible effects on metamorphosis. Importantly, precocious metamorphosis caused by TcMT3 RNA interference was rescued by an application of a juvenile hormone mimic, methoprene. Together, these results demonstrate that TcMT3 encodes a functional JHAMT gene that is essential for juvenile hormone biosynthesis and for the maintenance of larval status.

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