The homeobox family is a large and diverse superclass of genes, many of which act as transcription factors that play important roles in tissue differentiation and embryogenesis in animals. The brown planthopper (BPH), Nilaparvata lugens, is the most destructive pest of rice in Asia, and high fecundity contributes significantly to its ecological success in natural and agricultural habits. Here, we identified 94 homeobox genes in BPH, which could be divided into 75 gene families and 9 classes. This number is comparable to the number of homeobox genes found in the honeybee Apis mellifera, but is slightly less than in Drosophila or the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum. A spatio-temporal analysis indicated that most BPH homeobox genes were expressed in a development and tissue-specific manner, of which 21 genes were highly expressed in ovaries. RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated functional assay showed that 22 homeobox genes were important for nymph development and the nymph to adult transition, whereas 67 genes were dispensable during this process. Fecundity assay showed that knockdown of 13 ovary-biased genes (zfh1, schlank, abd-A, Lim3_2, Lmxb, Prop, ap_1, Not, lab, Hmx, vis, Pknox, and C15) led to the reproductive defect. This is the first comprehensive investigation into homeobox genes in a hemipteran insect and thus helps us to understand the functional significance of homeobox genes in insect reproduction.
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