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.