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Juvenile hormone (JH) controls the growth, development, metamorphosis, and reproduction of insects. For many years, the general assumption has been that JH regulates tick and other acarine development and reproduction the same as in insects. Although researchers have not been able to find the common insect JHs in hard and soft tick species and JH applications appear to have no effect on tick development, it is difficult to prove the negative or to determine whether precursors to JH are made in ticks. The tick synganglion contains regions which are homologous to the corpora allata, the biosynthetic source for JH in insects. Next-gen sequencing of the tick synganglion transcriptome was conducted separately in adults of the American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis, the deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, and the relapsing fever tick, Ornithodoros turicata as a new approach to determine whether ticks can make JH or a JH precursor. All of the enzymes that make up the mevalonate pathway from acetyl-CoA to farnesyl diphosphate (acetoacetyl-CoA thiolase, HMG-S, HMG-R, mevalonate kinase, phosphomevalonate kinase, diphosphomevalonate decarboxylase, and farnesyl diphosphate synthase) were found in at least one of the ticks studied but most were found in all three species. Sequence analysis of the last enzyme in the mevalonate pathway, farnesyl diphosphate synthase, demonstrated conservation of the seven prenyltransferase regions and the aspartate rich motifs within those regions typical of this enzyme. In the JH branch from farnesyl diphosphate to JH III, we found a putative farnesol oxidase used for the conversion of farnesol to farnesal in the synganglion transcriptome of I. scapularis and D. variabilis. Methyltransferases (MTs) that add a methyl group to farnesoic acid to make methyl farnesoate were present in all of the ticks studied with similarities as high as 36% at the amino acid level to insect JH acid methyltransferase (JHAMT). However, when the tick MTs were compared to the known insect JHAMTs from several insect species at the amino acid level, the former lacked the farnesoic acid binding motif typical in insects. The P450s shown in insects to add the C10,11 epoxide to methyl farnesoate, are in the CYP15 family; this family was absent in our tick transcriptomes and in the I. scapularis genome, the only tick genome available. These data suggest that ticks do not synthesize JH III but have the mevalonate pathway and may produce a JH III precursor.

Original Publication Citation

Zhu, J., Khalil, S.M., Mitchell, R.D., Bissinger, B.W., Egekwu, N., Sonenshine, D.E., & Roe, R.M. (2016). Mevalonate-farnesal biosynthesis in ticks: Comparative synganglion transcriptomics and a new perspective. PLoS ONE, 11(3), 1-27. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141084


0000-0003-2861-7574 (Zhu), 0000-0003-3181-6590 (Khalil), 0000-0002-2770-349X (Bissinger), 0000-0001-9370-918X (Sonenshine),