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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Metabolomic analysis reveals that carnitines are key regulatory metabolites in phase transition of the locusts.


PMID 22328148

Abstract

Phenotypic plasticity occurs prevalently and plays a vital role in adaptive evolution. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms responsible for the expression of alternate phenotypes remain unknown. Here, a density-dependent phase polyphenism of Locusta migratoria was used as the study model to identify key signaling molecules regulating the expression of phenotypic plasticity. Metabolomic analysis, using high-performance liquid chromatography and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, showed that solitarious and gregarious locusts have distinct metabolic profiles in hemolymph. A total of 319 metabolites, many of which are involved in lipid metabolism, differed significantly in concentration between the phases. In addition, the time course of changes in the metabolic profiles of locust hemolymph that accompany phase transition was analyzed. Carnitine and its acyl derivatives, which are involved in the lipid β-oxidation process, were identified as key differential metabolites that display robust correlation with the time courses of phase transition. RNAi silencing of two key enzymes from the carnitine system, carnitine acetyltransferase and palmitoyltransferase, resulted in a behavioral transition from the gregarious to solitarious phase and the corresponding changes of metabolic profiles. In contrast, the injection of exogenous acetylcarnitine promoted the acquisition of gregarious behavior in solitarious locusts. These results suggest that carnitines mediate locust phase transition possibly through modulating lipid metabolism and influencing the nervous system of the locusts.