The Manduca sexta (L.) [Lepidoptera: Sphingidae] and Heliothis virescens (F.) [Lepidoptera: Noctuidae] midguts consist of a pseudostratified epithelium surrounded by striated muscle and tracheae. This epithelium contains goblet, columnar, and basal stem cells. The stem cells are critically important in that they are capable of massive proliferation and differentiation. This growth results in a fourfold enlargement of the midgut at each larval molt. The stem cells are also responsible for limited cell replacement during repair. While the characteristics of the stem cell population vary over the course of an instar, stem cells collected early in an instar and those collected late can start in vitro cultures. Cultures of larval stem, goblet, and columnar cells survive in vitro for several mo through proliferation and differentiation of the stem cells. One of the two polypeptide differentiation factors which have been identified and characterized from the culture medium has now been shown to be present in midgut in vivo. Thus the ability to examine lepidopteran midgut stem cell growth in vitro and in vivo is proving to be effective in determining the basic features of stem cell action and regulation.
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Vol. 37 • No. 6