Transcriptional Regulation

bunched requires hedgehog signal for initiation of transcription in the eye-imaginal disc (Treisman, 1995).

Dorsal-ventral (DV) patterning of the Drosophila embryo is initiated by Dorsal, a sequence-specific transcription factor distributed in a broad nuclear gradient in the precellular embryo. Previous studies have identified as many as 70 protein-coding genes and one microRNA (miRNA) gene that are directly or indirectly regulated by this gradient. A gene regulation network, or circuit diagram, including the functional interconnections among 40 Dorsal (Dl) target genes and 20 associated tissue-specific enhancers, has been determined for the initial stages of gastrulation. This study attempts to extend this analysis by identifying additional DV patterning genes using a recently developed whole-genome tiling array. This analysis led to the identification of another 30 protein-coding genes, including the Drosophila homolog of Idax, an inhibitor of Wnt signaling. In addition, remote 5' exons were identified for at least 10 of the ~100 protein-coding genes that were missed in earlier annotations. As many as nine intergenic uncharacterized transcription units (TUs) were identified, including two that contain known microRNAs, miR-1 and -9a. The potential functions of these recently identified genes are discussed and it is suggested that intronic enhancers are a common feature of the DV gene network (Biemar, 2006).

The Dl nuclear gradient differentially regulates a variety of target genes in a concentration-dependent manner. The gradient generates as many as five different thresholds of gene activity, which define distinct cell types within the presumptive mesoderm, neuroectoderm, and dorsal ectoderm. Total RNA was extracted from embryos produced by three different maternal mutants: pipe/pipe, Tollrm9/Tollrm10, and Toll10B. pipe/pipe mutants completely lack Dl nuclear protein and, as a result, overexpress genes that are normally repressed by Dl and restricted to the dorsal ectoderm. For example, the decapentaplegic (dpp) TU is strongly "lit up" by total RNA extracted from pipe/pipe mutant embryos. The intron-exon structure of the transcribed region is clearly delineated by the hybridization signal, most likely because the processed mRNA sequences are more stable than the intronic sequences present in the primary transcript. There is little or no signal detected with RNAs extracted from Tollrm9/Tollrm10 (neuroectoderm) and Toll10B (mesoderm) mutants. Instead, these other mutants overexpress different subsets of the Dl target genes. For example, Tollrm9/Tollrm10 mutants contain low levels of Dl protein in all nuclei in ventral, lateral, and dorsal regions. These low levels are sufficient to activate target genes such as intermediate neuroblasts defective (ind), ventral neuroblasts defective (vnd), rhomboid (rho), and short gastrulation (sog) but insufficient to activate snail (sna). In contrast, Toll10B mutants overexpress genes (e.g., sna) normally activated by peak levels of the Dl gradient in ventral regions constituting the presumptive mesoderm (Biemar, 2006).

To identify potential Dl targets, ranking scores were assigned for the six possible comparisons of the various mutant backgrounds, pipe vs. Tollrm9/Tollrm10, pipe vs. Toll10B, Tollrm9/Tollrm10 vs. Toll10B, Tollrm9/Tollrm10 vs. pipe, Toll10B vs. Tollrm9/Tollrm10, and Toll10B vs. pipe, using the TiMAT software package. As a first approximation, only hits with a median fold difference of 1.5 and above were considered. For further analysis, the top 100 TUs were selected for each of the comparisons, with the exception of Tollrm9/Tollrm10 vs. pipe for which the TiMAT analysis returned only 43 hits that meet the cutoff. To refine the search for TUs specifically expressed in the mesoderm, where levels of nuclear Dl are highest, only those present in the Toll10B vs. Tollrm9/Tollrm10 and Toll10B vs. pipe, but not pipe vs. Tollrm9/Tollrm10 comparisons were selected. For TUs induced by intermediate and low levels of nuclear Dl in the neuroectoderm, those present in both the Tollrm9/Tollrm10 vs. Toll10B and Tollrm9/Tollrm10 vs. pipe, but not pipe vs. Toll10B comparisons were selected. For TUs restricted to the dorsal ectoderm, only those present in the pipe vs. Tollrm9/Tollrm10 and pipe vs. Toll10B, but not Tollrm9/Tollrm10 vs. Toll10B, were selected. Finally, the TUs corresponding to annotated genes already identified in the previous screen were eliminated to focus on annotated genes not previously considered as potential Dorsal targets, as well as transcribed fragments (transfrags) not previously characterized. Using these criteria, 45 previously annotated protein-coding genes were identified, along with 23 uncharacterized transfrags. Of the 45 protein-coding genes, 29 exhibited localized patterns of gene expression across the DV axis, whereas the remaining 16 were not tested (Biemar, 2006).

The previous microarray screen relied on high cutoff values for the identification of authentic DV genes. For example, only genes exhibiting 6-fold up-regulation in pipe/pipe mutant embryos were tested by in situ hybridization for localized expression in the dorsal ectoderm. Many other genes displayed >2-fold up-regulation but were not explicitly tested for localized expression. The whole-genome tiling array permitted the use of much lower cutoff values. For example, CG13800, which was identified by conventional microarray screens, falls just below the original cutoff value but displays 5-fold up-regulation in pipe/pipe mutants in the analysis. In situ hybridization assays reveal localized expression in the dorsal ectoderm. This pattern is greatly expanded in embryos derived from pipe/pipe mutant females, as expected for a gene that is either directly or indirectly repressed by the Dl gradient. Genes exhibiting even lower cutoff values were also found to display localized expression. Among these genes is a Wnt homologue, Wnt2, which is augmented only 2.25-fold in mutant embryos lacking the Dl nuclear gradient (Biemar, 2006).

The 4-fold cutoff value used in the previous screen for candidate protein-coding genes expressed in the neuroectoderm also excluded genes expressed in this tissue. The Trim9 gene exhibits just a 2-fold increase in mutant embryos derived from Tollrm9/Tollrm10 females. Nonetheless, in situ hybridization assays reveal localized expression in the neuroectoderm of WT embryos. As expected, expression is expanded in Tollrm9/Tollrm10 mutant embryos. Another gene, CG9973, displays just 1.8-fold up-regulation but is selectively expressed in the neuroectoderm. CG9973 encodes a putative protein related to Idax, an inhibitor of the Wnt signaling pathway. Idax inhibits signaling by interacting with the PDZ domain of Dishevelled (Dsh), a critical mediator of the pathway. A Wnt2 homologue is selectively expressed in the dorsal ectoderm. Recent studies identified a second Wnt gene, WntD, which is expressed in the mesoderm. Thus, the CG9973/Idax inhibitor might be important for excluding Wnt signaling from the neuroectoderm. Such a function is suggested by the analysis of Idax activity in vertebrate embryos (Biemar, 2006).

Additional genes were also identified that are specifically expressed in the mesoderm. Among these is CG9005, which encodes an unknown protein that is highly conserved in different animals, including frogs, chicks, mice, rats, and humans. It displays <2-fold up-regulation in Toll10B embryos but is selectively expressed in the ventral mesoderm of WT embryos. Expression is expanded in embryos derived from Toll10B mutant females (Biemar, 2006).

Other protein-coding genes were missed in the previous screen because they were not represented on the Drosophila Genome Array used at the time. These include, for instance, CG8147 in the dorsal ectoderm and CG32372 in the mesoderm (Biemar, 2006).

An interesting example of the use of tiling arrays to identify tissue-specific isoforms is seen for the bunched (bun) TU. bun encodes a putative sequence-specific transcription factor related to mammalian TSC-22, which is activated by TGFβ signaling. It was shown to inhibit Notch signaling in the follicular epithelium of the Drosophila egg chamber. Three transcripts are expressed from alternative promoters in bun, but it appears that only the short isoform (bun-RC) is specifically expressed in the dorsal ectoderm. A number of bun exons are ubiquitously transcribed at low levels in the mesoderm, neuroectoderm, and dorsal ectoderm. However, the 3'-most exons are selectively up-regulated in pipe/pipe mutants. It is conceivable that Dpp signaling augments the expression of this isoform, which in turn, participates in the patterning of the dorsal ectoderm (Biemar, 2006).

bunched: Biological Overview | Evolutionary Homologs | Developmental Biology | Effects of Mutation | References

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