Diapause. Delaying the developmental clock in response to a changing environment.

Luca Schiesari, Michael B. O'Connor

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

26 Scopus citations


Seasonal changes can induce organisms to modify their developmental growth. Many holometabolous insects, especially Lepidoptera, trigger diapause, an "actively induced" dormancy, for overwintering. Diapause is an alternative developmental pathway that reversibly blocks developmental growth during specific transitions and enhances the hibernating potential of the organism. Changes in environmental cues, such as light and temperature, trigger modifications in the levels, or in the timing, of developmental hormones. These in turn switch the developmental trajectory (diapause or direct development), strongly altering larval/pupal growth and inducing the appearance of diapause-bound seasonal morphs (polyphenism). We also discuss an example of vertebrate diapause using the killifish embryo as an example where diapause is an environmentally determined developmental switch analogous to that observed in lepidopteran dormancy. Based on the examples discussed here, we propose that the complex physiological responses leading to diapause might evolve quickly by relatively limited genetic changes in the regulation of hormonal signals that program normal developmental transitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCurrent Topics in Developmental Biology
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages34
StatePublished - 2013

Publication series

NameCurrent Topics in Developmental Biology
ISSN (Print)0070-2153

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
L.S. is supported by a doctoral fellowship from the University of Padova (Italy). L.S. also thanks Fondazione Ing. “A.Gini” of University of Padova (Italy) and Rudi Costa (University of Padova). M.B.O. is supported by NIH grant GM R01 GM0933001. The authors thank Emilie Snell-Rood for helpful comments on the manuscript.


  • Developmental clock
  • Diapause
  • Diapause hormone
  • Ecdysone
  • Polyphenism


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