Aphid adaptation to harsh winter conditions is illustrated by an alternation of their reproductive mode. Aphids detect photoperiod shortening by sensing the length of the night and switch from viviparous parthenogenesis in spring and summer, to oviparous sexual reproduction in autumn. The photoperiodic signal is transduced from the head to the reproductive tract to change the fate of the future oocytes from mitotic diploid embryogenesis to haploid formation of gametes. This process takes place in three consecutive generations due to viviparous parthenogenesis. To understand the molecular basis of the switch in the reproductive mode, transcriptomic and proteomic approaches were used to detect significantly regulated transcripts and polypeptides in the heads of the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum.
The transcriptomic profiles of the heads of the first generation were slightly affected by photoperiod shortening. This suggests that trans-generation signalling between the grand-mothers and the viviparous embryos they contain is not essential. By analogy, many of the genes and some of the proteins regulated in the heads of the second generation are implicated in visual functions, photoreception and cuticle structure. The modification of the cuticle could be accompanied by a down-regulation of the N-β-alanyldopamine pathway and desclerotization. In Drosophila, modification of the insulin pathway could cause a decrease of juvenile hormones in short-day reared aphids.
This work led to the construction of hypotheses for photoperiodic regulation of the switch of the reproductive mode in aphids.