Forskning ved Københavns Universitet - Københavns Universitet


The dynamics of cyanide defences in the life cycle of an aposematic butterfly: Biosynthesis versus sequestration

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Heliconius butterflies are highly specialized in Passiflora plants, laying eggs and feeding as larvae only on them. Interestingly, both Heliconius butterflies and Passiflora plants contain cyanogenic glucosides (CNglcs). While feeding on specific Passiflora species, Heliconius melpomene larvae are able to sequester simple cyclopentenyl CNglcs, the most common CNglcs in this plant genus. Yet, aromatic, aliphatic, and modified CNglcs have been reported in Passiflora species and they were never tested for sequestration by heliconiine larvae. As other cyanogenic lepidopterans, H. melpomene also biosynthesize the aliphatic CNglcs linamarin and lotaustralin, and their toxicity does not rely exclusively on sequestration. Although the genes encoding the enzymes in the CNglc biosynthesis have not yet been biochemically characterized in butterflies, the cytochromes P450 CYP405A4, CYP405A5, CYP405A6 and CYP332A1 have been hypothesized to be involved in this pathway in H. melpomene. In this study, we determine how the CNglc composition and expression of the putative P450s involved in the biosynthesis of these compounds vary at different developmental stages of Heliconius butterflies. We also establish which kind of CNglcs H. melpomene larvae can sequester from Passiflora. By analysing the chemical composition of the haemolymph from larvae fed with different Passiflora diets, we show that H. melpomene is able to sequestered prunasin, an aromatic CNglcs, from P. platyloba. They are also able to sequester amygdalin, gynocardin, [C13/C14]linamarin and [C13/C14]lotaustralin painted on the plant leaves. The CNglc tetraphyllin B-sulphate from P. caerulea is not detected in the larval haemolymph, suggesting that such modified CNglcs cannot be sequestered by Heliconius. Although pupae and virgin adults contain dihydrogynocardin resulting from larval sequestration, this compound was metabolized during adulthood, and not used as nuptial gift or transferred to the offspring. Thus, we speculate that dihydrogynocardin is catabolized to recycle nitrogen and glucose, and/or to produce fitness signals during courtship. Mature adults have a higher concentration of CNglcs than any other developmental stages due to increased de novo biosynthesis of linamarin and lotaustralin. Accordingly, all CYP405As are expressed in adults, whereas larvae mostly express CYP405A4. Our results shed light on the importance of CNglcs for Heliconius biology and their coevolution with Passiflora.

TidsskriftInsect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Sider (fra-til)1-9
StatusUdgivet - jan. 2020

ID: 234142916