Bursicon is a neurohumoral agent responsible for tanning and hardening of the cuticle and expansion of the wings during the final phase of insect metamorphosis. Although the hormonal activity was described more than 40 years ago, the molecular nature of bursicon has remained elusive. We identify here Drosophila bioactive bursicon as a heterodimer made of two cystine knot polypeptides. This conclusion was reached in part front the unexpected observation that in the genome of the honey bee, the orthologs of the two Drosophila proteins are predicted to be fused in a single open reading frame. The heterodimeric Drosophila protein displays bursicon bioactivity in freshly eclosed neck-ligated flies and is the natural agonist of the orphan G protein-coupled receptor DLGR2. (c) 2005 Federation of European Biochemical Societies. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.