In an insect, the tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta, the cerebral neuropeptide prothoracicotropic hormone (PTTH), the primary effector of postembryonic development, exists as two molecular forms. These two PTTH's elicit characteristic in vitro dose responses of activation of prothoracic glands from different developmental stages, an indication that during development the glands change in their sensitivity to the neurohormones. Both PTTH's are active in a specific in situ bioassay. Since they may be released in situ at stage-specific times to evoke distinctly different developmental responses, the PTTH neuroendocrine axis appears to be an effective system for determining the functions of molecular forms of a neurohormone in the regulation of growth and development.