A Toll-Spätzle pathway in the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta

Xue Zhong, Xiao Xia Xu, Hui Yu Yi, Christopher Lin, Xiao Qiang Yu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Insects synthesize a battery of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) and expression of AMP genes is regulated by the Toll and Imd (immune deficiency) pathways in Drosophila melanogaster. Drosophila Toll pathway is activated after Spätzle (Spz) is cleaved by Spätzle processing enzyme (SPE) to release the active C-terminal C106 domain (DmSpz-C106), which then binds to the Toll receptor to initiate the signaling pathway and regulate expression of AMP genes such as drosomycin. Toll and Spz genes have been identified in other insects, but interaction between Toll and Spz and direct evidence for a Toll-Spz pathway in other insect species have not been demonstrated. Our aim is to investigate a Toll-Spz pathway in Manduca sexta, and compare M. sexta and D. melanogaster Toll-Spz pathways. Co-immunoprecipitation (Co-IP) assays showed that MsToll ecto (the ecto-domain of M. sexta Toll) could interact with MsSpz-C108 (the active C-terminal C108 domain of M. sexta Spz) but not with full-length MsSpz, and DmToll ecto could interact with DmSpz-C106 but not DmSpz, suggesting that Toll receptor only binds to the active C-terminal domain of Spz. Co-expression of MsToll-MsSpz-C108, but not MsToll-MsSpz, could up-regulate expression of drosomycin gene in Drosophila S2 cells, indicating that MsToll-MsSpz-C108 complex can activate the Toll signaling pathway. In vivo assays showed that activation of AMP genes, including cecropin, attacin, moricin and lebocin, in M. sexta larvae by purified recombinant MsSpz-C108 could be blocked by pre-injection of antibody to MsToll, further confirming a Toll-Spz pathway in M. sexta, a lepidopteran insect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)514-524
Number of pages11
JournalInsect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Antibody-blocking
  • Antimicrobial peptide
  • Drosomycin
  • Moricin
  • Spätzle
  • Toll

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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