[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The atonal (ato) proneural gene specifies a stereotypic number of sensory organ precursors (SOP) within each body segment of the Drosophila ectoderm. Surprisingly, the broad expression of Ato within the ectoderm results in only a modest increase in SOP formation, suggesting many cells are incompetent to become SOPs. Here, we show that the SOP promoting activity of Ato can be greatly enhanced by three factors: the Senseless (Sens) zinc finger protein, the Abdominal-A (Abd-A) Hox factor, and the epidermal growth factor (EGF) pathway. First, we show that expression of either Ato alone or with Sens induces twice as many SOPs in the abdomen as in the thorax, and do so at the expense of an abdomen-specific cell fate: the larval oenocytes. Second, we demonstrate that Ato stimulates abdominal SOP formation by synergizing with Abd-A to promote EGF ligand (Spitz) secretion and secondary SOP recruitment. However, we also found that Ato and Sens selectively enhance abdominal SOP development in a Spitz-independent manner, suggesting additional genetic interactions between this proneural pathway and Abd-A. Altogether, these experiments reveal that genetic interactions between EGF-signaling, Abd-A, and Sens enhance the SOP-promoting activity of Ato to stimulate region-specific neurogenesis in the Drosophila abdomen.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The atonal (ato) proneural gene specifies different numbers of sensory organ precursor (SOP) cells within distinct regions of the Drosophila embryo in an epidermal growth factor-dependent manner through the activation of the rhomboid (rho) protease. How ato activates rho, and why it does so in only a limited number of sensory cells remains unclear. We previously identified a rho enhancer (RhoBAD) that is active within a subset of abdominal SOP cells to induce larval oenocytes and showed that RhoBAD is regulated by an Abdominal-A (Abd-A) Hox complex and the Senseless (Sens) transcription factor. Here, we show that ato is also required for proper RhoBAD activity and oenocyte formation. Transgenic reporter assays reveal RhoBAD contains two conserved regions that drive SOP gene expression: RhoD mediates low levels of expression in both thoracic and abdominal SOP cells, whereas RhoA drives strong expression within abdominal SOP cells. Ato indirectly stimulates both elements and enhances RhoA reporter activity by interfering with the ability of the Sens repressor to bind DNA. As RhoA is also directly regulated by Abd-A, we propose a model for how the Ato and Sens proneural factors are integrated with an abdominal Hox factor to regulate region-specific SOP gene expression.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Hox factors are key regulators of distinct cells, tissues, and organs along the body plan. However, little is known about how Hox factors regulate cell-specific gene expression to pattern diverse tissues. Here, we show an unexpected Hox transcriptional mechanism: the permissive regulation of EGF secretion, and thereby cell specification, by antagonizing the Senseless transcription factor in the peripheral nervous system. rhomboid expression in a subset of sensory cells stimulates EGF secretion to induce hepatocyte-like cell development. We identified a rhomboid enhancer that is active in these cells and show that an abdominal Hox complex directly competes with Senseless for enhancer binding, with the transcriptional outcome dependent upon their relative binding activities. Thus, Hox-Senseless antagonism forms a molecular switch that integrates neural and anterior-posterior positional information. As the vertebrate senseless homolog is essential for neural development as well as hematopoiesis, we propose Hox-Senseless antagonism will broadly control cell fate decisions.