Melanism has been found in a wide range of species, but the molecular mechanisms involved remain largely elusive. In this study, we studied the molecular mechanisms of the pupal melanism in Spodoptera exigua. The full length cDNA sequences of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and dopa decarboxylase (DDC), two key enzymes in the biosynthesis pathway of melanin, were cloned, and their temporal expression patterns in the integument were compared during the larval-pupal metamorphosis process of the S. exigua wild type (SEW) and melanic mutant (SEM) strains. No amino acid change in the protein sequence of TH and DDC was found between the two strains. Both DDC and TH were significantly over-expressed in the integument of the SEM strain at late-prepupa and 0 h pupa, respectively, compared with those of the SEW strain. Feeding 5th instar larvae of SEM with diets incorporated with 1 mg/g of the DDC inhibitor L-α-Methyl-DOPA and 0.75 mg/g of the TH inhibitor 3-iodo-tyrosine (3-IT) resulted in 20% pupae with partially-rescued phenotype and 68.2% of pupae with partially- or fully-rescued phenotype, respectively. These results indicate that overexpressions of TH and DDC are involved in the pupal melanization of S. exigua.
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