Programmed cell death in the Drosophila CNS is ecdysone-regulated and coupled with a specific ecdysone receptor isoform.
At adult emergence, the ventral CNS of Drosophila shows a group of approximately 300 neurons, which are unique in that they express 10-fold higher levels of the A isoform of the ecdysone receptor (EcR-A) than do other central neurons. This expression pattern is established early in metamorphosis and persists throughout the remainder of the pupal stage. Although these cells represent a heterogeneous group of neurons, they all share the same fate of undergoing rapid degeneration after the adult emerges from the pupal case. One prerequisite for this death is the decline of ecdysteroids at the end of metamorphosis. Treatment of flies with 20-hydroxyecdysone blocks the death of the cells, but only if given at least 3 hours before the normal time of degeneration. The correlation of a unique pattern of receptor isoform expression with a particular steroid-regulated fate suggests that variations in the pattern of receptor isoform expression may serve as important switches during development.