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Note: Research in this publication was not performed at Janelia.
In insects, the shedding of the old cuticle at the end of a molt involves a stereotyped sequence of distinct behaviors. Our studies on the isolated nervous system of Manduca sexta show that the peptides ecdysis-triggering hormone (ETH) and crustacean cardioactive peptide (CCAP) elicit the first two motor behaviors, the pre-ecdysis and ecdysis behaviors, respectively. Exposing isolated abdominal ganglia to ETH resulted in the generation of sustained pre-ecdysis bursts. By contrast, exposing the entire isolated CNS to ETH resulted in the sequential appearance of pre-ecdysis and ecdysis motor outputs. Previous research has shown that ETH activates neurons within the brain that then release eclosion hormone within the CNS. The latter elevates cGMP levels within and increases the excitability of a group of neurons containing CCAP. In our experiments, the ETH-induced onset of ecdysis bursts was always associated with a rise in intracellular cGMP within these CCAP neurons. We also found that CCAP immunoreactivity decreases centrally during normal ecdysis. Isolated, desheathed abdominal ganglia responded to CCAP by generating rhythmical ecdysis bursts. These ecdysis motor bursts persisted as long as CCAP was present and could be reinduced by successive application of the peptide. CCAP exposure also actively terminated pre-ecdysis bursts from the abdominal CNS, even in the continued presence of ETH. Thus, the sequential performance of the two behaviors arises from one modulator activating the first behavior and also initiating the release of the second modulator. The second modulator then turns off the first behavior while activating the second.