Insect cuticles have been a model system for the study of planar polarity for many years and a number of genes required for this process have been identified. These genes organise the polarised arrangement of hairs on the legs, wings, thorax, and abdomen of adult Drosophila. It has previously been shown that four-jointed is involved in planar polarity decisions in the eye as well as proximal distal leg and wing development. We now present evidence that four-jointed is expressed in a gradient through the developing wing and show that it is required for planar polarity determination in both the wing and the abdomen. Clones of cells either lacking or ectopically expressing four-jointed cause both autonomous and nonautonomous repolarisation of hairs in these tissues. We propose that the inferred four-jointed expression gradient is important for planar polarity establishment and that local inversions of the gradient by the clones are the probable cause of the observed polarity phenotypes. In addition we observe defects in wing vein development. The subtle phenotypes of mutant flies, and the diverse patterning processes in which it is involved, suggest that four-jointed may act as a modifier of the activity of multiple other signalling factors.
BACKGROUND: The Drosophila eye is composed of about 800 ommatidia, each of which becomes dorsoventrally polarised in a process requiring signalling through the Notch, JAK/STAT and Wingless pathways. These three pathways are thought to act by setting up a gradient of a signalling molecule (or molecules) often referred to as the 'second signal'. Thus far, no candidate for a second signal has been identified. RESULTS: The four-jointed locus encodes a type II transmembrane protein that is expressed in a dorsoventral gradient in the developing eye disc. We have analysed the function and regulation of four-jointed during eye patterning. Loss-of-function clones or ectopic expression of four-jointed resulted in strong non-autonomous defects in ommatidial polarity on the dorsoventral axis. Ectopic expression experiments indicated that localised four-jointed expression was required at the time during development when ommatidial polarity was being determined. In contrast, complete removal of four-jointed function resulted in only a mild ommatidial polarity defect. Finally, we found that four-jointed expression was regulated by the Notch, JAK/STAT and Wingless pathways, consistent with it mediating their effects on ommatidial polarity. CONCLUSIONS: The clonal phenotypes, time of requirement and regulation of four-jointed are consistent with it acting in ommatidial polarity determination as a second signal downstream of Notch, JAK/STAT and Wingless. Interestingly, it appears to act redundantly with unknown factors in this process, providing an explanation for the previous failure to identify a second signal.