Ems and Nkx6 are central regulators in dorsoventral patterning of the Drosophila brain

Janina Seibert, Dagmar Volland, Rolf Urbach
Development 2009, 136 (23): 3937-47
In central nervous system development, the identity of neural stem cells (neuroblasts) critically depends on the precise spatial patterning of the neuroectoderm in the dorsoventral (DV) axis. Here, we uncover a novel gene regulatory network underlying DV patterning in the Drosophila brain, and show that the cephalic gap gene empty spiracles (ems) and the Nk6 homeobox gene (Nkx6) encode key regulators. The regulatory network implicates novel interactions between these and the evolutionarily conserved homeobox genes ventral nervous system defective (vnd), intermediate neuroblasts defective (ind) and muscle segment homeobox (msh). We show that Msh cross-repressively interacts with Nkx6 to sustain the boundary between dorsal and intermediate neuroectoderm in the tritocerebrum (TC) and deutocerebrum (DC), and that Vnd positively regulates Nkx6 by suppressing Msh. Remarkably, Ems is required to activate Nkx6, ind and msh in the TC and DC, whereas later Nkx6 and Ind act together to repress ems in the intermediate DC. Furthermore, the initially overlapping expression of Ems and Vnd in the ventral/intermediate TC and DC resolves into complementary expression patterns due to cross-repressive interaction. These results indicate that the anteroposterior patterning gene ems controls the expression of DV genes, and vice versa. In addition, in contrast to regulation in the ventral nerve cord, cross-inhibition between homeodomain factors (between Ems and Vnd, and between Nkx6 and Msh) is essential for the establishment and maintenance of discrete DV gene expression domains in the Drosophila brain. This resembles the mutually repressive relationship between pairs of homeodomain proteins that pattern the vertebrate neural tube in the DV axis.

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