The prothoracicotropic hormone (PTTH) of Drosophila melanogaster is a modulator of ecdysteroid (molting hormone) synthesis and was isolated and characterized from extracts of whole larvae (approximately 4 x 10(5) larvae). The purification protocol included delipidation, salt-extraction, heat treatment, conventional column chromatography, and HPLC, and yielded about 50 microg of pure hormone. Biological activity was followed using a ring gland in vitro assay in which ecdysteroidogenesis by control ring glands as measured by radioimmunoassay was compared with ring gland incubations containing active fractions. The molecular weight of the purified PTTH was 45 kDa and N-terminal amino acid sequence analysis indicated that those analyzed sequences displayed no significant homology with known peptides or peptide hormones, including PTTH from the silkmoth, Bombyx mori. Western blot analysis indicated that the native form of Drosophila PTTH was a single 66-kDa polypeptide with N-linked carbohydrate chains and intrachain disulfide bonds. The purified 45-kDa peptide is the deglycosylated form, a result of glycosidase activity present during preparation of the PTTH extract. The deglycosylated form shows heterogeneity, presumably as a result of varying degrees of deglycosylation at the N terminus.