One major challenge in the fields of signal transduction and pattern formation is to understand how multiple signals are integrated to determine cell fates. Two developmental systems, vulval development in Caenorhabditis elegans and axis formation during Drosophila melanogaster oogenesis, require the epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase and the NOTCH signaling pathways to specify cell fates. Current work in both systems has provided new opportunities to investigate the potential for the cross-talk between these different signaling pathways.
Cell fate choice at the anterior and posterior embryonic termini of the Drosophila embryo requires the activation of a signal transduction pathway regulated by the receptor tyrosine kinase Torso. When Torso, which is uniformly distributed in the egg cell membrane, becomes activated locally at the termini, it triggers a phosphorylation cascade that culminates with localized expression of the transcription factors, tailless and huckebein. Expression of tailless and huckebein in turn determines terminal cell fates. Several genes have been characterized which encode proteins that are involved in Torso signaling: the adaptor protein Drk, the GTP-binding protein Ras1, the guanine nucleotide exchange factor Son of sevenless, and the kinases D-Raf and D-Mek. Genetic and molecular evidence supports a model in which these proteins lie in the same biochemical pathway. When activated by its ligand the membrane-bound receptor tyrosine kinase Torso initiates a signal transduction pathway mediated by Drk, Sos, and Ras1, which in turn activates a phosphorylation cascade mediated by the kinases D-Raf and D-Mek, which ultimately control the localized expression of the transcription factors tailless and huckebein. Recently, we found that D-Raf can be partially activated by Torso in the absence of Ras1, a finding supported by the phenotype of embryos lacking either Drk or Sos activity, as well as by the phenotype of a D-raf mutation that abolishes binding of Ras1 to D-Raf. These findings indicate that full D-Raf activation requires input not only from Ras1 but also from an as yet uncharacterized Ras1-independent pathway. In addition to these molecules we have characterized the putative protein tyrosine phosphatase Corkscrew as a positive transducer downstream of Torso.
The link between oncogenesis and normal development is well illustrated by the study of the Wnt family of proteins. The first Wnt gene (int-1) was identified over a decade ago as a proto-oncogene, activated in response to proviral insertion of a mouse mammary tumor virus. Subsequently, the discovery that Drosophila wingless, a developmentally important gene, is homologous to int-1 supported the notion that int-1 may have a role in normal development. In the last few years it has been recognized that int-1 and Wingless belong to a large family of related glyco-proteins found in vertebrates and invertebrates. In recognition of this, members of this family have been renamed Wnts, an amalgam of int and Wingless. Investigation of Wnt genes in Xenopus and mouse indicates that Wnts have a role in cell proliferation, differentiation and body axis formation. Further analysis in Drosophila has revealed that Wingless function is required in several developmental processes in the embryo and imaginal discs. In addition, a genetic approach has identified some of the molecules required for the transmission and reception of the Wingless signal. We will review recent data which have contributed to our growing understanding of the function and mechanism of Drosophila Wingless signaling in cell fate determination, growth and specification of pattern.
An elegant combination of genetic and biochemical approaches has been used to investigate a variety of signal transduction pathways in developmental processes. Here, we describe the 'terminal' signaling system in the Drosophila embryo, which is responsible for pattern formation in the polar regions of the embryo. This pathway involves a membrane-bound receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) that is similar to other Drosophila RTKs, such as sevenless, and the mammalian RTKs, such as the epidermal growth factor or platelet-derived growth factor receptors.
The isolation and characterization of Drosophila mutations in receptor protein tyrosine kinases (RPTKs) have allowed a detailed analysis of the cellular processes regulated by these proteins. Recent investigations have identified a number of putative ligands involved in the activation of the receptors, and have demonstrated that these RPTKs trigger an evolutionarily conserved biochemical pathway. In addition to molecules previously identified from vertebrate studies, i.e. Grb2, Sos, Ras-Gap, p21ras, Raf, MEK and MAPK, genetic studies have suggested that two novel proteins, the protein tyrosine phosphatase (PTPase) Csw and the transmembrane protein Rho, are involved in RPTK signalling.
Pattern formation at the anterior and posterior termini of the Drosophila embryo involves intercellular communication via the Torso receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK). Recent advances in the understanding of Torso signaling has provided further support for the conservation of a signal transduction cassette downstream of RTKs. In addition, the analysis of the Torso pathway has begun to reveal general molecular mechanisms by which cells may impart patterning information to their neighbors through the use of RTKs.
Many of the steps involved in formation of the Drosophila embryonic central nervous system (CNS) have been identified by both descriptive and experimental studies. In this review we will describe the various approaches that have been used to identify molecules involved in CNS development and the advantages and disadvantages of each of them. Our discussion will by no means be exhaustive; but rather we will discuss our experiences with each approach and provide an overview of what has been learned by using these methodologies. Finally, we will discuss methods that have been recently developed and how they are likely to provide further insight into CNS development.
By a complex and little understood mechanism, segment polarity genes control patterning in each segment of the Drosophila embryo. During this process, cell to cell communication plays a pivotal role and is under direct control of the products of segment polarity genes. Many of the cloned segment polarity genes have been found to be highly conserved in evolution, providing a model system for cellular interactions in other organisms. In Drosophila, two of these genes, engrailed and wingless, are expressed on either side of the parasegment border. wingless encodes a secreted molecule and engrailed a nuclear protein with a homeobox. Maintenance of engrailed expression is dependent on wingless and vice versa. To investigate the role of other segment polarity genes in the mutual control between these two genes, we have examined wingless and engrailed protein distribution in embryos mutant for each of the segment polarity genes. In embryos mutant for armadillo, dishevelled and porcupine, the changes in engrailed expression are identical to those in wingless mutant embryos, suggesting that their gene products act in the wingless pathway. In embryos mutant for hedgehog, fused, cubitus interruptus Dominant and gooseberry, expression of engrailed is affected to varying degrees. However wingless expression in the latter group decays in a similar way earlier than engrailed expression, indicating that these gene products might function in the maintenance of wingless expression. Using double mutant embryos, epistatic relationships between some segment polarity genes have been established. We present a model showing a current view of segment polarity gene interactions.
In the Drosophila embryo, specification of terminal cell fates that result in the formation of both the head (acron) and tail (telson) regions is under the control of the torso (tor) receptor tyrosine kinase. The current knowledge suggests that activation of tor at the egg pole initiates a signal transduction pathway that is mediated sequentially by the guanine nucleotide releasing factor son of sevenless (Sos), the p21Ras1 GTPase, the serine/threonine kinase D-raf and the tyrosine/threonine kinase MAPKK (Dsor1). Subsequently, it is postulated that activation, possibly by phosphorylation, of a transcription factor at the egg poles activates the transcription of the terminal gap genes tailless and huckebein. These gap genes, which encode putative transcription factors, then control the expression of more downstream factors that ultimately result in head and tail differentiation. Also involved in tor signaling is the non-receptor protein tyrosine phosphatase corkscrew (csw). Here, we review the current model and discuss future research directions in this field.
The formation of the telson in the Drosophila embryo, which encompasses all structures posterior to abdominal segment 7, is under the control of the "terminal class" genes. These maternally expressed genes are organized in a signal transduction pathway which implicates cell-cell interactions between the germ cell derivatives (the nurse cells and oocyte) and the surrounding follicle cell epithelium. Activation of this localized signal transduction pathway at the termini of the embryo is believed to specify the domains of activation and repression of a set of zygotic genes whose interactions specify the various cell states required for the proper formation of tail structures.
The study of serine/threonine kinases in Drosophila is coming of age. Recently several kinases have been identified and their role in cell determination has been established. This review discusses these recent findings and describes the potential for genetic analyses of kinase activity and signal transduction.