Two hexamerin genes from the termite Reticulitermes flavipes: Sequence, expression, and proposed functions in caste regulation

X. Zhou, M. R. Tarver, G. W. Bennett, F. M. Oi, M. E. Scharf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Previous molecular studies on the termite Reticulitermes flavipes have revealed that two hexamerin proteins serve an important status quo role in the regulation of juvenile hormone (JH)-dependent caste differentiation. Here, we report sequence data and other experimental evidence suggesting how these two hexamerins function in achieving caste regulation. The two hexamerin genes, named Hex-1 and Hex-2, encode highly unique sequence features relative to the 100+ other known insect hexamerins. These features include a long hydrophobic tail and prenylation motif in Hex-1, and a long hydrophilic insertion plus several putative protease cleavage sites in Hex-2. Both hexamerin genes are primarily expressed in fat body tissue, but only Hex-2 expression is substantially induced by JH. SDS-PAGE showed that the hexamerin proteins constitute a major proportion of total soluble termite protein. Also, although each protein occurs in both the membrane and soluble protein fractions, Hex-2 has stronger membrane affinity. Anti-JH antiserum specifically recognizes hemolymph-soluble Hex-1 protein, supporting that the unique prenylation site in Hex-1 facilitates covalent JH binding to the primary amino acid chain. Finally, increased ratios of Hex-2 to Hex-1 transcription occur in caste phenotypes and developmental stages that differentiate in response to rising JH titers. Two main conclusions can be taken from these studies. First, elevated ratios of Hex-2 to Hex-1 expression are associated with caste phenotypes that differentiate in response to rising JH titers (i.e., workers, presoldiers and soldiers). Second, due to their unique structural features and other observed characteristics, our findings support the hypothesis that the two hexamerins participate in the regulation of caste-differentiation by modulating JH availability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-58
Number of pages12
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jul 5 2006


  • Caste differentiation
  • Hexamerin
  • JH
  • Juvenile hormone
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Polyphenism
  • RNAi

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics


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