The salmon louse, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, is an ectoparasitic crustacean that annually inflicts substantial losses to the aquaculture industry in the northern hemisphere and poses a threat to the wild populations of salmonids. The salmon louse life cycle consists of eight developmental stages each separated by a molt. Fushi Tarazu Factor-1 (FTZ-F1) is an ecdysteroid-regulated gene that encodes a member of the NR5A family of nuclear receptors that is shown to play a crucial regulatory role in molting in insects and nematodes. Characterization of an FTZ-F1 orthologue in the salmon louse gave two isoforms named αFTZ-F1 and βFTZ-F1, which are identical except for the presence of a unique N-terminal domain (A/B domain). A comparison suggest conservation of the FTZ-F1 gene structure among ecdysozoans, with the exception of nematodes, to produce isoforms with unique N-terminal domains through alternative transcription start and splicing. The two isoforms of the salmon louse FTZ-F1 were expressed in different amounts in the same tissues and showed a distinct cyclical expression pattern through the molting cycle with βFTZ-F1 being the highest expressed isoform. While RNA interference knockdown of βFTZ-F1 in nauplius larvae and in pre-adult males lead to molting arrest, knockdown of βFTZ-F1 in pre-adult II female lice caused disruption of oocyte maturation at the vitellogenic stage. No apparent phenotype could be observed in αFTZ-F1 knockdown larvae, or in their development to adults, and no genes were found to be differentially expressed in the nauplii larvae following αFTZ-F1 knockdown. βFTZ-F1 knockdown in nauplii larvae caused both down and upregulation of genes associated with proteolysis and chitin binding and affected a large number of genes which are in normal salmon louse development expressed in a cyclical pattern. This is the first description of FTZ-F1 gene function in copepod crustaceans and provides a foundation to expand the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of molting in the salmon louse and other copepods.
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