EGF receptor

Effects of Mutation or Deletion

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Egfr in the midgut

Decapentaplegic has a prime function during endoderm induction in Drosophila. Dpp is secreted from the outer cell layer of the embryonic midgut (the visceral mesoderm), where Dpp's main source of expression in parasegment ps7 depends directly on the homeotic gene Ultrabithorax (Ubx). In the same cell layer, Dpp stimulates expression of another extracellular signal, Wingless (Wg), in a neighboring parasegment (ps8), which in turn feeds back to ps7 to stimulate Ubx expression. Thus, Dpp is part of a "parautocrine" feedback loop of Ubx (i.e., an autocrine feedback loop based partly on paracrine action) that sustains its own expression through Dpp and Wg. Dpp also spreads to the inner layer of the embryonic midgut, the endoderm, where it synergizes with Wg to induce expression of the homeotic gene labial (lab). To achieve this, Dpp locally elevates the endodermal expression levels of Drosophila D-Fos with which it cooperates to induce lab. Differentiation of various cell types in the larval gut depends on these inductive effects of Dpp and Wg. A cAMP response element (CRE) from the Ubx midgut enhancer has been shown to be necessary and to some extent sufficient to mediate the Dpp response in the embryonic midgut (Eresh, 1997).

CREs are known to be signal-responsive elements, not only for cAMP signaling as described initially but also for other signals including ones acting through Ras. This prompted an investigation of whether any other signal may play a part in the Dpp response. This led to the discovery that the Drosophila epidermal growth factor receptor (Egfr) has a critical function during endoderm induction. A secondary signal was discovered with a permissive role in this process, namely Vein, a neuregulin-like ligand that stimulates the epidermal growth factor receptor and Ras signaling. Dpp and Wg up-regulate vein expression in the midgut mesoderm in two regions overlapping the Dpp sources. This up-regulation depends on dpp and wg. Vein is thus a secondary signal of Dpp and Wg, and it stimulates homeotic gene expression in both cell layers of the midgut (Szuts, 1998).

Because loss-of-function mutants of the Drosophila Egfr are very abnormal and do not develop properly beyond the early embryonic stages, a temperature-sensitive allele of Egfr, flb1F26, was used to ask whether this receptor has any function in the embryonic midgut. flb1F26 embryos were stained with anti-Labial antibody after shifting the embryos from the permissive to the restrictive temperature at 6-8 hr of development (i.e., before midgut formation, but allowing normal germ-band retraction). The midguts of the homozygous flb1F26 embryos are severely abnormal, with none of the constrictions forming properly, and they show virtually no Lab staining in the midgut epithelium. These phenotypes indicate a critical function for Egfr in the embryonic midgut. Many endodermal cells were missing or seemingly unhealthy, especially in the middle midgut where lab is induced and in the anterior midgut near the gastric caeca. These two midgut regions correspond to the domains of Dpp expression. Similar effects of Egfr loss of function on cell health have been observed in earlier studies of the embryonic epidermis. Although this putative function of Egfr in cell survival may contribute to the observed loss of lab induction, it is believed that it does not account for all aspects of the gut phenotypes attributable to Egfr loss of function (Szuts, 1998).

The activity of the minimal Ubx midgut enhancer (Ubx B) was examined after mesodermal expression of dominant negative Egfr (DN-DER). Ubx B normally mediates strong lacZ staining in a region spanning the middle midgut constriction (ps6-ps9) and also some staining in the gastric caeca (ps3); the strongest staining in ps7/ps8 spans the main Dpp and Wg sources in the middle midgut, whereas the ps3 staining coincides with the anterior source of Dpp. Mesodermal expression of DN-DER almost completely eliminates staining in ps3 and strongly reduces staining in the ps6/ps7 region. These results lend strong support to the notion that Egfr functions in the visceral mesoderm; they indicate that Egfr positively regulates Ubx expression (Szuts, 1998).

Two ligands are known that activate Egfr in the somatic cells of Drosophila: Spitz, which apparently needs to be processed to an active form by the membrane-spanning protein Rhomboid, and Vein. spitz and rhomboid loss-of-function mutants were examined by staining embryos with Lab antibody, but these mutants appear to have only a minor effect on Lab expression: typically, Lab staining is found to be missing in just a few cells in the lab domain, and the midgut constrictions are normal in these mutants. However, vein mutant embryos show a drastic effect on Lab expression. The most extreme mutant conditions caused nearly complete loss of Lab staining in the midgut; none of the midgut constrictions form, nor do the gastric caeca elongate. Milder mutant conditions have only sporadic effects in the midgut, since only some cells in the lab domain lack Lab expression; the constrictions and the gastric caeca form normally under these conditions. These results implicate Vein as a critical ligand of Egfr in the embryonic midgut (Szuts, 1998).

EGFR expression is thought to be fairly ubiquitous in the embryo. However, vein transcripts are found in a highly restricted pattern, primarily in the embryonic mesoderm. In the midgut too, vein expression is spatially regulated, as follows: vein transcripts in the midgut are restricted to the visceral mesoderm. Initially, during stage 13, low levels of vein expression are seen at intervals throughout the midgut mesoderm. However, soon after the formation of the midgut epithelium, vein transcripts start to accumulate locally, and two main domains of prominent vein expression develop, one in the anterior and one in the middle midgut. Anteriorly, vein expression spans approximately ps2-ps4 and is strongest around the ps3/ps4 junction, that is, posterior to the gastric caeca. In the middle midgut, there is a fairly wide band of low vein expression spanning approximately ps6-ps10, with strongly up-regulated expression levels throughout ps7 (and trailing into anterior ps8). Posterior ps7 becomes the most prominent site of vein expression in the midgut. Finally, a narrow band with low levels of vein transcripts is seen at the posterior end of the midgut. The two main expression domains of vein overlap the two domains of Dpp expression in the visceral mesoderm (in ps3 and ps7), but each of them is considerably wider than the corresponding dpp domain. vein expression in the visceral mesoderm is severely diminished in dpps4 mutants. The prominent band of vein expression in ps7 is no longer seen, and expression in ps4 is reduced too. Instead, the strongest expression of vein in these mutants is seen at a novel location, at the ps5/ps6 junction around the incipient first midgut constriction (this ps5/ps6 expression is higher than in the wild type, and can be used to identify young dpp mutant embryos). It is concluded that dpp is required for the localized up-regulation of vein expression in the midgut (Szuts, 1998).

vein expression is also strongly diminished in wg mutants. vein expression can still be seen at moderate levels in the ps4 region, but vein expression is barely visible elsewhere in the midgut of these mutants. In particular, there are only traces of vein expression in the ps7/ps8 region, and expression at both midgut ends is almost undetectable. Clearly, wg plays an essential role as well in up-regulating vein expression. dpp and wg are sufficient to position the two domains of vein up-regulation. High mesodermal Wg causes very strong vein expression in ps2-ps7, significantly stronger than that caused in this region by mesodermal Dpp expression alone. This indicates that wg cooperates with dpp in positioning vein up-regulation. It is shown that neither Dpp for Egfr signaling is particularly effective in the absence of the other. Thus these two pathways are functionally interdependent and that they synergize with each other, revealing functional intertwining (Szuts, 1998).

The mutant analysis suggests strongly that Vein is the main, if not the only, ligand that stimulates Egfr in the embryonic midgut. This contrasts with other tissues, mainly of ectodermal origin, in which Spitz is the main Egfr ligand. Interestingly, Vein also has a major role during an inductive process between muscle and epidermis: Vein is secreted from muscle cells and triggers differentiation of the receiving epidermal cells into tendon cells. These functions of Vein during inductive processes between different cell layers suggest that the molecular properties of Vein are particularly suited to such processes that require the signal to cross basal membranes. Similarly, the extensive mesodermal expression of Vein may mean that this signal protein is particularly well-adapted to its production in this cell layer. Note that Vein is similar to mammalian neuregulins that appear to function in developmental contexts that involve communication between different cell layers (Szutz, 1998 and references).

The transcriptional response elements for the Dpp signal in midgut enhancers from homeotic target genes are bipartite, comprising CRE sites as well as binding sites for the Dpp signal-transducing protein Mad. Of these sites, the CRE seems to function primarily in the response to Ras, the secondary signal of Dpp. It is also shown that the Dpp response element in the labial enhancer comprises CREs and Mad binding sites. The results with the labial enhancer confirm the conclusions derived from the Ubx enhancer, namely that the response element to Dpp signaling is bipartite and contains Mad binding sites as well as CREs. The latter are critical in both cell layers for the signal response, whereas the former seem less criticial in the endoderm than in the visceral mesoderm. Perhaps this reflects the fact that lab is the ultimate target gene of the endoderm induction and that its enhancer clearly integrates a number of distinct positional inputs, some of which may be partially redundant (Szuts, 1998).

Why should there be this secondary signal whose role is entirely permissive, namely to assist the primary signal in implementing its tasks? Two kinds of answers are proposed. The first one is based on the observation that lack of Vein/Egfr signaling in the midgut appears to make cells sick and perhaps causes them to die. Therefore, Vein/Egfr signaling may serve as a "survival signal." Intriguingly, cell survival in embryos lacking vein or Egfr function appear to be affected preferentially near the two Dpp sources (where vein expression is up-regulated). Perhaps high levels of Dpp signaling can cause cell death; if so, vein signaling may be up-regulated to counteract a putative local deleterious effect of Dpp. A precedent for such a scenario may be found in the developing chick limb bud where the cell death-inducing properties of BMP (a TGF-beta-like signal) seem to be antagonized locally by a signal triggering the Ras pathway. However, although antagonistic effects between Egfr- and TGF-beta-type signaling have been observed, the evidence provided here suggests strongly that Vein/Egfr and Dpp both act positively in the embryonic midgut of Drosophila. Furthermore, they synergize with each other in the transcriptional stimulation of target genes. This observed synergy parallels cooperation between Ras and TGF-beta signaling during epithelial tumor progression. It is therefore thought unlikely that Vein functions in the midgut entirely as a survival signal near Dpp sources (Szuts, 1998).

The second kind of answer builds on the observations that indicate functional interdependence and synergy between the two signaling pathways in stimulating transcription of target genes. This could be beneficial for developmental systems in two ways: (1) if cells need to be costimulated by cooperating primary and secondary signals, this would serve to sharpen their signal response. This putative sharpening effect may be a contributory factor in sharp responses to signaling thresholds such as those observed in the Xenopus embryo.(2) The need for costimulation would safeguard against fortuitous and random stimulation of cells by any one signal, thus improving the reliability of their signal response. And although a requirement for the secondary signal is observed throughout the functional realm of the primary signal, it is envisaged that the role of the secondary signal is particularly critical in remote cells where the distribution of the primary signal becomes shallow, imprecise, and unreliable. Therefore, the secondary signal may provide primarily "remote stimulation." Whatever the case, it seems very likely that the use of a functionally coupled primary-secondary signal system results in a refinement and stabilization of positional information and in a degree of precision of this information that could not be conferred by one signal alone. Functional intertwining of a secondary and a primary signal may represent a mechanistic solution of how morphogens such as Dpp and activins work. Perhaps, signaling pathways do not function on their own in eliciting multiple different cellular responses, as envisaged by the purest version of the morphogen concept (Szuts, 1998).

Table of contents

EGF receptor : Biological Overview | Evolutionary Homologs | Regulation | Protein Interactions | Developmental Biology | References

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