Delta: Biological Overview | Evolutionary Homologs | Regulation | Protein Interactions | Developmental Biology | Effects of Mutation | References

Gene name - Delta

Synonyms -

Cytological map position - 92A2

Function - ligand for Notch

Keywords - Notch pathway, neurogenic, regulates cell fate decisions and cell proliferation.

Symbol - Dl

FlyBase ID:FBgn0000463

Genetic map position - 3-66.2

Classification - transmembrane ligand - EGF family

Cellular location - surface

NCBI links: Entrez Gene

Delta orthologs: Biolitmine

Recent literature
Chou, M. H., Hsieh, Y. C., Huang, C. W., Chen, P. H., Chan, S. P., Tsao, Y. P., Lee, H. H., Wu, J. T. and Chen, S. L. (2015). BCAS2 regulates Delta-Notch signaling activity through Delta pre-mRNA splicing in Drosophila wing development. PLoS One 10: e0130706. PubMed ID: 26091239
BCAS2 is essential for Drosophila viability and functions in pre-mRNA splicing. This study provides strong evidence that BCAS2 regulates the activity of Delta-Notch signaling via Delta pre-mRNA splicing. Depletion of dBCAS2 reduces Delta mRNA expression and leads to accumulation of Delta pre-mRNA, resulting in diminished transcriptions of Delta-Notch signaling target genes, such as cut and E(spl)m8. Furthermore, ectopic expression of human BCAS2 (hBCAS2) and Drosophila BCAS2 (dBCAS2) in a dBCAS2-deprived fly can rescue dBCAS2 depletion-induced wing damage to the normal phenotypes. These rescued phenotypes are correlated with the restoration of Delta pre-mRNA splicing, which affects Delta-Notch signaling activity. Additionally, overexpression of Delta can rescue the wing deformation by deprivation of dBCAS2; and the depletion of dBCAS2 can restore the aberrant eye associated with Delta-overexpressing retinas; providing supporting evidence for the regulation of Delta-Notch signaling by dBCAS2. Taken together, dBCAS2 participates in Delta pre-mRNA splicing that affects the regulation of Delta-Notch signaling in Drosophila wing development.

Kidd, S. and Lieber, T. (2016). Mechanism of Notch pathway activation and its role in the regulation of olfactory plasticity in Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS One 11: e0151279. PubMed ID: 26986723
The neural plasticity of sensory systems is being increasingly recognized as playing a role in learning and memory. Notch, part of an evolutionarily conserved intercellular signaling pathway, is required in adult Drosophila melanogaster olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) for the structural and functional plasticity of olfactory glomeruli that is induced by chronic odor exposure. This paper addresses how long-term exposure to odor activates Notch and how Notch in conjunction with chronic odor mediates olfactory plasticity. Upon chronic odor exposure a non-canonical Notch pathway mediates an increase in the volume of glomeruli by a mechanism that is autonomous to ORNs. In addition to activating a pathway that is autonomous to ORNs, chronic odor exposure also activates the Notch ligand Delta in second order projection neurons (PNs), but this does not appear to require acetylcholine receptor activation in PNs. Delta on PNs then feeds back to activate canonical Notch signaling in ORNs, which restricts the extent of the odor induced increase in glomerular volume. Surprisingly, even though the pathway that mediates the increase in glomerular volume is autonomous to ORNs, nonproductive transsynaptic Delta/Notch interactions that do not activate the canonical pathway can block the increase in volume. In conjunction with chronic odor, the canonical Notch pathway also enhances cholinergic activation of PNs. Evidence is presented suggesting that this is due to increased acetylcholine release from ORNs. In regulating physiological plasticity, Notch functions solely by the canonical pathway, suggesting that there is no direct connection between morphological and physiological plasticity.

Imai, Y., et al., (2015) The Parkinson's disease-associated protein linase LRRK2 modulates Notch signaling through the endosomal pathway. PLoS Genet 11: e1005503. PubMed ID: 26355680
Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) is a key molecule in the pathogenesis of familial and idiopathic Parkinson's disease (PD). This study identified two novel LRRK2-associated proteins, a HECT-type ubiquitin ligase, HERC2, and an adaptor-like protein with six repeated Neuralized domains, NEURL4. LRRK2 binds to NEURL4 and HERC2 via the LRRK2 Ras of complex proteins (ROC) domain and NEURL4, respectively. HERC2 and NEURL4 link LRRK2 to the cellular vesicle transport pathway and Notch signaling, through which the LRRK2 complex promotes the recycling of the Notch ligand Delta-like 1 (Dll1)/Delta (Dl) through the modulation of endosomal trafficking. This process negatively regulates Notch signaling through cis-inhibition by stabilizing Dll1/Dl, which accelerates neural stem cell differentiation and modulates the function and survival of differentiated dopaminergic neurons. These effects are strengthened by the R1441G ROC domain-mutant of LRRK2. These findings suggest that the alteration of Notch signaling in mature neurons is a component of PD etiology linked to LRRK2.
Corson, F., Couturier, L., Rouault, H., Mazouni, K. and Schweisguth, F. (2017). Self-organized Notch dynamics generate stereotyped sensory organ patterns in Drosophila. Science [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 28386027
The emergence of spatial patterns in developing multicellular organisms relies on positional cues and cell-cell communication. Drosophila sensory organs have informed a paradigm where these operate in two distinct steps: prepattern factors drive localized proneural activity, then Notch-mediated lateral inhibition singles out neural precursors. This study shows that self-organization through Notch signaling also organizes the proneural stripes that resolve into rows of sensory bristles on the fly thorax. Patterning, initiated by a gradient of Delta ligand expression, progresses through inhibitory signaling between and within stripes. Thus Notch signaling can support self-organized tissue patterning as a prepattern is transduced by cell-cell interactions into a refined arrangement of cellular fates.
Pandey, A. and Jafar-Nejad, H. (2018). Cell aggregation assays to evaluate the binding of the Drosophila Notch with trans-ligands and its inhibition by cis-ligands. J Vis Exp(131). PubMed ID: 29364239
Notch signaling is an evolutionarily conserved cell-cell communication system used broadly in animal development and adult maintenance. Interaction of the Notch receptor with ligands from neighboring cells induces activation of the signaling pathway (trans-activation), while interaction with ligands from the same cell inhibits signaling (cis-inhibition). Proper balance between trans-activation and cis-inhibition helps establish optimal levels of Notch signaling in some contexts during animal development. This study describes a protocol for using Drosophila S2 cells in cell-aggregation assays to assess the effects of knocking down a Notch pathway modifier on the binding of Notch to each ligand in trans and in cis. S2 cells stably or transiently transfected with a Notch-expressing vector are mixed with cells expressing each Notch ligand (S2-Delta or S2-Serrate). Trans-binding between the receptor and ligands results in the formation of heterotypic cell aggregates and is measured in terms of the number of aggregates per mL composed of >6 cells. To examine the inhibitory effect of cis-ligands, S2 cells co-expressing Notch and each ligand are mixed with S2-Delta or S2-Serrate cells and the number of aggregates is quantified as described above. The relative decrease in the number of aggregates due to the presence of cis-ligands provides a measure of cis-ligand-mediated inhibition of trans-binding. These straightforward assays can provide semi-quantitative data on the effects of genetic or pharmacological manipulations on the binding of Notch to its ligands, and can help deciphering the molecular mechanisms underlying the in vivo effects of such manipulations on Notch signaling.
Obniski, R., Sieber, M. and Spradling, A. C. (2018). Dietary lipids modulate Notch signaling and influence adult intestinal development and metabolism in Drosophila. Dev Cell 47(1): 98-111.e115. PubMed ID: 30220569
Tissue homeostasis involves a complex balance of developmental signals and environmental cues that dictate stem cell function. This study found that dietary lipids control enteroendocrine cell production from Drosophila posterior midgut stem cells. Dietary cholesterol influences new intestinal cell differentiation in an Hr96-dependent manner by altering the level and duration of Notch signaling. Exogenous lipids modulate Delta ligand and Notch extracellular domain stability and alter their trafficking in endosomal vesicles. Lipid-modulated Notch signaling occurs in other nutrient-dependent tissues, suggesting that Delta trafficking in many cells is sensitive to cellular sterol levels. These diet-mediated alterations in young animals contribute to a metabolic program that persists after the diet changes. A low-sterol diet also slows the proliferation of enteroendocrine tumors initiated by Notch pathway disruption. Thus, a specific dietary nutrient can modify a key intercellular signaling pathway to shift stem cell differentiation and cause lasting changes in tissue structure and physiology.
Trylinski, M. and Schweisguth, F. (2019). Activation of Arp2/3 by WASp is essential for the endocytosis of Delta only during cytokinesis in Drosophila. Cell Rep 28(1): 1-10. PubMed ID: 31269431
The actin nucleator Arp2/3 generates pushing forces in response to signals integrated by SCAR and WASp. In Drosophila, the activation of Arp2/3 by WASp is specifically required for Notch signaling following asymmetric cell division. How WASp and Arp2/3 regulate Notch activity and why receptor activation requires WASp and Arp2/3 only in the context of intra-lineage fate decisions are unclear. This study found that WASp, but not SCAR, is required for Notch activation soon after division of the sensory organ precursor cell. Conversely, SCAR, but not WASp, is required to expand the cell-cell contact between the two SOP daughters. Thus, these two activities of Arp2/3 can be uncoupled. Using a time-resolved endocytosis assay, WASp and Arp2/3 were shown to be required for the endocytosis of Dl only during cytokinesis. It is proposed that WASp-Arp2/3 provides an extra pushing force that is specifically required for the efficient endocytosis of Dl during cytokinesis.
Viswanathan, R., Necakov, A., Trylinski, M., Harish, R. K., Krueger, D., Esposito, E., Schweisguth, F., Neveu, P. and De Renzis, S. (2019). Optogenetic inhibition of Delta reveals digital Notch signalling output during tissue differentiation. EMBO Rep: e47999. PubMed ID: 31668010
Spatio-temporal regulation of signalling pathways plays a key role in generating diverse responses during the development of multicellular organisms. The role of signal dynamics in transferring signalling information in vivo is incompletely understood. This study employed genome engineering in Drosophila melanogaster to generate a functional optogenetic allele of the Notch ligand Delta (opto-Delta), which replaces both copies of the endogenous wild-type locus. Using clonal analysis, it was shown that optogenetic activation blocks Notch activation through cis-inhibition in signal-receiving cells. Signal perturbation in combination with quantitative analysis of a live transcriptional reporter of Notch pathway activity reveals differential tissue- and cell-scale regulatory modes. While at the tissue-level the duration of Notch signalling determines the probability with which a cellular response will occur, in individual cells Notch activation acts through a switch-like mechanism. Thus, time confers regulatory properties to Notch signalling that exhibit integrative digital behaviours during tissue differentiation.
Shen, W. and Sun, J. (2020). Different modes of Notch activation and strength regulation in the spermathecal secretory lineage. Development 147(3). PubMed ID: 31988187
The strength of Notch signaling contributes to pleiotropic actions of Notch; however, there is as yet no a full understanding of the molecular regulation of Notch-signaling strength. This study investigated the mode of Notch activation in binary fate specification in the Drosophila spermathecal linage, where Notch is asymmetrically activated across three divisions to specify different cell fates. Using clonal analysis, this study shows that Delta (Dl) serves as the ligand for Notch in the first and second divisions. Dl and Serrate (Ser) function redundantly in the third division. Compared with the third division, cell-fate decision in the second division requires a lower level of Suppressor of Hairless protein, and, consequently, a lower level of Notch signaling. Several Notch endosomal trafficking regulators differentially regulate Notch signaling between the second and third divisions. This study demonstrate that cell differentiation in spermathecae involves different Notch-activation modes, Notch-signaling strengths and Notch-trafficking regulations. Thus, the Drosophila spermathecal lineage is an exciting model for probing the molecular mechanisms that modulate the Notch signaling pathway.
Yatsenko, A. S. and Shcherbata, H. R. (2021). Distant activation of Notch signaling induces stem cell niche assembly. PLoS Genet 17(3): e1009489. PubMed ID: 33780456
This study shows that multiple modes of Notch signaling activation specify the complexity of spatial cellular interactions necessary for stem cell niche assembly. In particular, the formation was studied of the germline stem cell niche in Drosophila ovaries, which is a two-step process whereby terminal filaments are formed first. Then, terminal filaments signal to the adjacent cap cell precursors, resulting in Notch signaling activation, which is necessary for the lifelong acquisition of stem cell niche cell fate. The genetic data suggest that in order to initiate the process of stem cell niche assembly, Notch signaling is activated among non-equipotent cells via distant induction, where germline Delta is delivered to somatic cells located several diameters away via cellular projections generated by primordial germ cells. At the same time, to ensure the robustness of niche formation, terminal filament cell fate can also be induced by somatic Delta via cis- or trans-inhibition. This exemplifies a double security mechanism that guarantees that the germline stem cell niche is formed, since it is indispensable for the adjacent germline precursor cells to acquire and maintain stemness necessary for successful reproduction. These findings contribute to understanding of the formation of stem cell niches in their natural environment, which is important for stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.
Wang, M., Han, X., Liu, C., Takayama, R., Yasugi, T., Ei, S. I., Nagayama, M., Tanaka, Y. and Sato, M. (2021). Intracellular trafficking of Notch orchestrates temporal dynamics of Notch activity in the fly brain. Nat Commun 12(1): 2083. PubMed ID: 33828096
While Delta non-autonomously activates Notch in neighboring cells, it autonomously inactivates Notch through cis-inhibition, the molecular mechanism and biological roles of which remain elusive. The wave of differentiation in the Drosophila brain, the 'proneural wave', is an excellent model for studying Notch signaling in vivo. This study shows that strong nonlinearity in cis-inhibition reproduces the second peak of Notch activity behind the proneural wave in silico. Based on this, Delta expression was demonstrated to induce a quick degradation of Notch in late endosomes and the formation of the twin peaks of Notch activity in vivo. Indeed, the amount of Notch is upregulated and the twin peaks are fused forming a single peak when the function of Delta or late endosomes is compromised. Additionally, this study showed that the second Notch peak behind the wavefront controls neurogenesis. Thus, intracellular trafficking of Notch orchestrates the temporal dynamics of Notch activity and the temporal patterning of neurogenesis.
Martins, T., Meng, Y., Korona, B., Suckling, R., Johnson, S., Handford, P. A., Lea, S. M. and Bray, S. J. (2021). The conserved C2 phospholipid-binding domain in Delta contributes to robust Notch signalling. EMBO Rep: e52729. PubMed ID: 34347930
Accurate Notch signalling is critical for development and homeostasis. Fine-tuning of Notch-ligand interactions has substantial impact on signalling outputs. Recent structural studies have identified a conserved N-terminal C2 domain in human Notch ligands which confers phospholipid binding in vitro. This study shows that Drosophila ligands Delta and Serrate adopt the same C2 domain structure with analogous variations in the loop regions, including the so-called β1-2 loop that is involved in phospholipid binding. Mutations in the β1-2 loop of the Delta C2 domain retain Notch binding but have impaired ability to interact with phospholipids in vitro. To investigate its role in vivo, five residues within the β1-2 loop of endogenous Delta were deleted. Strikingly, this change compromises ligand function. The modified Delta enhances phenotypes produced by Delta loss-of-function alleles and suppresses that of Notch alleles. As the modified protein is present on the cell surface in normal amounts, these results argue that C2 domain phospholipid binding is necessary for robust signalling in vivo fine-tuning the balance of trans and cis ligand-receptor interactions.
Enomoto, M., Takemoto, D. and Igaki, T. (2021). Interaction between Ras and Src clones causes interdependent tumor malignancy via Notch signaling in Drosophila. Dev Cell 56(15): 2223-2236.e2225. PubMed ID: 34324859
Cancer tissue often comprises multiple tumor clones with distinct oncogenic alterations such as Ras or Src activation, yet the mechanism by which tumor heterogeneity drives cancer progression remains elusive. This study shows in Drosophila imaginal epithelium that clones of Ras- or Src-activated benign tumors interact with each other to mutually promote tumor malignancy. Mechanistically, Ras-activated cells upregulate the cell-surface ligand Delta while Src-activated cells upregulate its receptor Notch, leading to Notch activation in Src cells. Elevated Notch signaling induces the transcriptional repressor Zfh1/ZEB1, which downregulates E-cadherin and cell death gene hid, leading to Src-activated invasive tumors. Simultaneously, Notch activation in Src cells upregulates the cytokine Unpaired/IL-6, which activates JAK-STAT signaling in neighboring Ras cells. Elevated JAK-STAT signaling upregulates the BTB-zinc-finger protein Chinmo, which downregulates E-cadherin and thus generates Ras-activated invasive tumors. These findings provide a mechanistic explanation for how tumor heterogeneity triggers tumor progression via cell-cell interactions.
Langridge, P. D., Garcia Diaz, A., Chan, J. Y., Greenwald, I. and Struhl, G. (2022). Evolutionary plasticity in the requirement for force exerted by ligand endocytosis to activate C. elegans Notch proteins. Curr Biol 32(10): 2263-2271. PubMed ID: 35349791
The conserved transmembrane receptor Notch has diverse and profound roles in controlling cell fate during animal development. In the absence of ligand, a negative regulatory region (NRR) in the Notch ectodomain adopts an autoinhibited confirmation, masking an ADAM protease cleavage site; ligand binding induces cleavage of the NRR, leading to Notch ectodomain shedding as the first step of signal transduction. In Drosophila and vertebrates, recruitment of transmembrane Delta/Serrate/LAG-2 (DSL) ligands by the endocytic adaptor Epsin, and their subsequent internalization by Clathrin-mediated endocytosis, exerts a "pulling force" on Notch that is essential to expose the cleavage site in the NRR. This study shows that Epsin-mediated endocytosis of transmembrane ligands is not essential to activate the two C. elegans Notch proteins, LIN-12 and GLP-1. Using an in vivo force sensing assay in Drosophila, evidence is presented that (1) the LIN-12 and GLP-1 NRRs are tuned to lower force thresholds than the NRR of Drosophila Notch, and (2) that this difference depends on the absence of a "leucine plug" that occludes the cleavage site in the Drosophila and vertebrate Notch NRRs. These results thus establish an unexpected evolutionary plasticity in the force-dependent mechanism of Notch activation and implicate a specific structural element, the leucine plug, as a determinant.
Sood, C., Nahid, M. A., Branham, K. R., Pahl, M. C., Doyle, S. E. and Siegrist, S. E. (2023). Delta-dependent Notch activation closes the early neuroblast temporal program to promote lineage progression and neurogenesis termination in Drosophila. bioRxiv. PubMed ID: 37034719
Neuroblasts in Drosophila divide asymmetrically, sequentially expressing a series of intrinsic factors to generate a diversity of neuron types. These intrinsic factors known as temporal factors dictate timing of neuroblast transitions in response to steroid hormone signaling and specify early versus late temporal fates in neuroblast neuron progeny. After completing their temporal programs, neuroblasts differentiate or die, finalizing both neuron number and type within each neuroblast lineage. From a screen aimed at identifying genes required to terminate neuroblast divisions, this study identified Notch and Notch pathway components. When Notch is knocked down, neuroblasts maintain early temporal factor expression longer, delay late temporal factor expression, and continue dividing into adulthood. This study found that Delta, expressed in cortex glia, neuroblasts, and after division, their GMC progeny, regulates neuroblast Notch activity. Delta in neuroblasts is expressed high early, low late, and is controlled by the intrinsic temporal program: early factor Imp promotes Delta, late factors Syp/E93 reduce Delta. Thus, in addition to systemic steroid hormone cues, forward lineage progression is controlled by local cell-cell signaling between neuroblasts and their cortex glia/GMC neighbors: Delta transactivates Notch in neuroblasts bringing the early temporal program and early temporal factor expression to a close.

Delta is one of the principle molecules in the Notch signaling pathway, and like the other proteins in this pathway is designated a neurogenic gene. As will be seen, Delta plays an especially important role in neurogenesis.

Both Delta, and its receptor Notch, are found expressed throughout the neuroectoderm. As a result of the gastrulation process, this layer of cells is positioned in the ventral part of the embryo (the ventral neuroectoderm). These cells are the precursors of neuroblasts, the stem cells from which the ventral nervous system (CNS) will arise. Cells destined to be neuroblasts delaminate from the neuroectoderm and migrate dorsally into the developing ventral nervous system. Delta plays a key role in the selection of cells that assume the neuroblast fate.

Through a process of selection known as lateral inhibition only a few cells in each segment become neuroblasts. It is a competitive process. A single cell, perhaps the one with the highest levels of Delta, sends a message to neighboring cells via the Notch receptor. This results in the inhibition of neuroblast development. The selected cell then delaminates and migrates dorsally. In this way, neuroblasts are born.

Because the Delta-Notch complex functions in cell adhesion (Fehon, 1990) this complex certainly must function in the delamination and migration process. The process of selection and inhibition is repeated many times, in many different aspects of development. The Delta-Notch pathway is highly conserved: Delta and Notch homologs are found throughout the metazoa. One of the major breakthroughs in developmental biology is an understanding of this mechanism, which has come about only in the last decade.

Expression of Delta has been studied during microchaeta (small bristle) development in Drosophila as well as in the regulatory relationships between the Delta-Notch signaling pathway and the proneural gene, achaete. The adult notum (the dorsal surface of thorax) is derived from the fusion of two heminota found at the anterior ends of the two wing/notal imaginal discs. Fusion takes place between 6 and 8 hours after puparium formation (APF). Within each notum, microchaeta sensory organ precursors (SOPs) arise within stripes of proneural cells arrayed from anterior to posterior. The stripe that develops in the center of the adult notum is designated stripe 1, and the stripe that contains the dorsocentral macrochaetae is designated stripe 5. Microchaeta stripes 1, 3, and 5 develop first, followed by stripes 2 and 4. The majority of microchaeta SOPs arise within proneural stripes between 10 and 12 hours APF. Delta is expressed in all microchaeta proneural cells and microchaeta SOPs, and is expressed dynamically in SOP progeny. Delta expression in microchaeta proneural cells is detected prior to the onset of achaete expression and arises normally in the absence of achaete/scute function, indicating that the initial Delta expression in the notum is not dependent on proneural gene function (Parks, 1997).

The Delta-Notch signaling pathway is required at two steps during proneural cluster formation and SOP specification. (1) Dl prevents specification of supernumerary SOPS. In this function Delta represses achaete expression between microchaeta proneural stripes. Thus Delta function is required to help define microchaeta proneural stripe boundaries. (2) Dl is required later within proneural stripes to repress achaete expression. This second function involves the choice between neural (neuronal and thecogen/glial) and non-neural (tormogen and trichogen support cells) cell fate in the two cells decendent from a single SOP. In the first stage of Delta function, the expression data indicate that Delta is transcribed and Delta protein is localized throughout the entire microchaeta proneural stripe. There are no asymmetries in Delta accumulation within proneural stripes at the transcriptional level; nor is there a decrease in Notch protein levels in nascent SOPs. This is in contrast to the predictions of lateral inhibition models that suggest a Delta-Notch feedback loop might result in higher Delta expression in the cell adopting the SOP fate and higher Notch expression in immediately surrounding cells. Within proneural stripes, therefore the expression data is most consistent with the idea of mutual inhibition, i. e., that microchaeta proneural cells within the entire equivalence group interact via Delta and Notch to inhibit adoption of the SOP fate (Parks, 1997).

After Achaete protein expression has, for the most part, resolved to cells adopting the SOP fate, there do appear to be asymmetries in subcellular Delta protein localization in the vicinity of SOPs. Activation of the Delta-Notch pathway results in loss of Delta protein accumulation, suggesting that Delta expression is post-transcriptionally regulated, in part, by Delta-Notch signaling activity. Thus, Delta signaling is required for correct delineation of early proneural gene expression in developing nota. Later, within microchaeta proneural stripes, Delta-Notch signaling prohibits adoption of the SOP fate by repressing expression of the proneural gene achaete (Parks, 1997).

Not all Delta functions are involved with neurogenesis. During wing margin formation in the wing imaginal disc Delta is required in ventral cells at the dorsal/ventral boundary. Ectopic Delta induces wingless, vestigial and cut and causes adult wing tissue outgrowth in the dorsal compartment. Whereas Delta is required in ventral cells, Serrate, another ligand for Notch is required in dorsal cells, and Notch is required in both. Thus Delta and Serrate function as compartment-specific ligands for Notch in the wing disc, activating Notch, which in turn induces downstream genes required for wing formation (Doherty, 1996).

Neural determination in the Drosophila eye occurs progressively. A diffusible signal, Dpp, causes undetermined cells first to adopt a 'pre-proneural' state in which they are primed to start differentiating. A second signal is required to trigger the activation of the transcription factor Atonal, which causes the cells to initiate overt photoreceptor neurone differentiation. Both Dpp and the second signal are dependent on Hedgehog (Hh) signaling. Previous work has shown that the Notch signaling pathway also has a proneural role in the eye (as well as a later, opposite function when it restricts the number of cells becoming photoreceptors -- a process of lateral inhibition). It is not clear how the early proneural role of Notch integrates with the other signaling pathways involved. Evidence suggests that Notch activation by its ligand Delta is the second Hh-dependent signal required for neural determination. Notch activity normally only triggers Atonal expression in cells that have adopted the pre-proneural state induced by Dpp. Notch drives the transition from pre-proneural to proneural by downregulating two repressors of Atonal: Hairy and Extramacrochaetae (Baonza, 2001).

Loss of Notch signaling leads to a loss of neural differentiation. Cells within clones of a null allele of Notch fail to upregulate Atonal expression from its initial low, uniform level. This implies that Notch signaling is required for the initiation of neural development but not for the first low level expression of Atonal. To examine in detail the role of Notch signaling in promoting neural differentiation, clones of cells expressing the Notch ligand Delta were made and their ability to induce neural differentiation was examined. In the wing disc, similar ectopic expression of Delta in clones induces the activation of Notch signaling within the clone as well as non-autonomously in cells surrounding it (Baonza, 2001).

Clones were generated using the Gal4/UAS system combined with the Flip-out technique and third instar larval eye discs were labelled with different markers to assess neural development. The phenotype of Delta-expressing clones depends on their position with respect to the morphogenetic furrow. Clones in the anterior part of the disc have no effect unless they are within 12-15 cell diameters of the furrow. Within this zone close to the furrow, Delta induces the ectopic expression of Atonal, both autonomously within the clone and non-autonomously, in cells surrounding the clone. In some of these clones there are also cells ectopically expressing the neural antigen Elav. This indicates that once Atonal expression is activated, the full neural program is initiated. Thus, the primary proneural function of Notch signaling is the activation of Atonal (Baonza, 2001).

Consistent with the neural-promoting properties of Delta, clones that span the furrow from posterior to anterior cause the anterior displacement of Atonal and Elav expression. This displacement implies that the furrow accelerates as it moves through the clone. In the region of these clones that lies posterior to the furrow, the domain of Atonal expression is expanded and the Atonal-expressing cells are disorganized and more numerous. In this region repression of neural differentiation, visualized with the expression of Elav, is also observed. This later phenotype reflects the function of Notch signaling pathway in preventing neural differentiation posterior to the morphogenetic furrow (Baonza, 2001).

Similar clones were also produced expressing the alternative Notch ligand, Serrate, and unlike Delta-expressing cells, these clones cause no neural induction ahead of the furrow. Conversely, when posterior to the furrow, Ser-expressing clones behave like those expressing Delta and prevent neural differentiation. This implies that anterior to the furrow, the two Notch ligands are not equivalent in their ability to activate the receptor. The reason for this has not been explored, but it is noted that the Notch glycosyltransferase Fringe, which makes Notch resistant to Serrate, is strongly expressed anterior to the furrow. The inability of Serrate to induce proneural Notch signaling is consistent with previous reports, which show that loss of Serrate caused no effects on eye development (Baonza, 2001).

These results imply that there is a zone of about 12-15 cell diameters ahead of the morphogenetic furrow, where the activation of Notch signaling by Delta, but not by Serrate, is sufficient to trigger neural fate (Baonza, 2001).

The simplest explanation of these results is that some signal or signals emanating from the cells posterior to, or within, the morphogenetic furrow are necessary for the specification of a neural competence zone ahead of the furrow. Within this zone, cells can respond to Delta-induced Notch activation by upregulating Atonal expression. A candidate for such a signal is the secreted protein Dpp. Dpp is expressed within the furrow in response to Hh signaling and has been proposed to define a 'pre-proneural' state in a zone anterior to the furrow. In order to analyse whether the function of Dpp is sufficient to generate the condition necessary for the neural activation by Notch signaling, clones that simultaneously express ectopic dpp and Delta were produced (Baonza, 2001).

Clones of cells that express dpp alone only induce neural differentiation along the margin of the eye discs; internal clones have no effect on neural induction. By contrast, clones that co-express Dl and dpp trigger neural differentiation everywhere ahead of the furrow. In all the clones studied, ectopic expression of Atonal and Elav was observed. The induction of neural differentiation occurs in all the cells surrounding the clone and not, as in Delta-expressing clones, only in the cells within the competence zone. In most of the clones analyzed, Atonal expression was found to be associated with an ectopic morphogenetic furrow induced by the clones. Thus, it is possible to observe clones with ectopic Atonal expression several cells away from the border of the clone and with Atonal expression restricted to isolated cells within the clone, reproducing the pattern of Atonal expression of the endogenous furrow. One interpretation of this result is that once Atonal is activated within and in the cells surrounding the clone, the normal cascade of ommatidial development is triggered, inducing an ectopic furrow that begins to move away from the clone (Baonza, 2001).

These observations lead to the conclusion that the expression of dpp is sufficient to enable all cells anterior to the furrow to activate neural differentiation in response to Notch. It is postulated that during normal development, Dpp primes the cells to become competent to differentiate neurally in response to Notch signaling, at a range of 12-15 cells anterior to the furrow (Baonza, 2001).

Loss of Dpp signaling during eye development causes furrow progression to slow down but not to stop: partial redundancy allows Hh signaling to induce neural differentiation in cells in which the Dpp signaling is blocked. Furthermore, clones of ectopic expression of Hh always induce neural differentiation and an ectopic furrow, even beyond the zone of Dpp-influenced cells, indicating that Hh is sufficient to trigger neural differentiation. The current model is that Dpp is important for furrow progression to occur efficiently and at a normal rate, but that it is not essential for neural differentiation to occur. This study shows that Dpp signaling has an important role in promoting the proneural function of Notch signaling by generating the 'pre-proneural' state ahead of the furrow. This does not, however, rule out the possibility that Hh signaling could also produce a similar effect. If the function of Dpp signaling can be rescued by Hh signaling, then it would be expected that the effects of ectopic activation of Notch signaling would be identical in a background where Dpp signaling is blocked (because in this case, Hh would replace Dpp function) (Baonza, 2001).

An examination was made of the effect of the ectopic expression of Delta when Dpp signaling is blocked, by inducing clones that co-express Delta and the negative Dpp signal regulator brinker. The use of brinker expression was evaluated as a way of inhibiting Dpp function in the eye by examining the phenotype of clones of brinker-expressing cells. brinker-expressing clones indeed mimic mad null clones in their ability to prevent the initiation of the morphogenetic furrow when they occur at the posterior margin of the disc (Baonza, 2001).

Double clones of brinker- and Delta-expressing cells only activate Atonal expression when they lie within four to five cells of the morphogenetic furrow. In addition, the position of the endogenous morphogenetic furrow is only slightly altered compared with control clones expressing Dl alone. Thus, the proneural action of ectopic Notch signaling anterior to the morphogenetic furrow is substantially reduced in cells in which Dpp signaling is inhibited. These results suggest that despite some partially rescuing short-range signal near the furrow (which is presumed to be Hh), Dpp signaling is required for the longer range ability of cells to initiate neural differentiation in response to Notch activation (Baonza, 2001).

The fact that the ectopic expression of Dpp does not reproduce the effects cause by the overexpression of Hh, indicates that additional Hh-dependent signals are needed to promote neural differentiation. The results suggest that Notch signaling could be one of these. According to this model blocking Notch and Dpp signaling would be sufficient to prevent neural differentiation, since it would block both Hh-induced intermediate signals. To analyze this possibility, double mutant clones of the strong Delta allele Dlrev10 and the medea allele med8 were induced. Medea is the Drosophila homologue of the mammalian MAD-related protein Smad4, and is required for transduction of the Dpp signal. Clones of med8 along the posterior eye margin cause similar phenotypes to mad minus clones, preventing the initiation of the morphogenetic furrow. Internal clones of med8 can reduce the expression of Atonal, especially the initial uniform expression. Occasionally (1/17), the expression of Atonal is totally removed in part of the clone. These phenotypes are similar to those described when Dpp signaling is blocked in mutant clones of the Dpp receptor thick vein (tkv). One phenotype of med8 clones could be found not accounted for by phenotypes caused by loss of other members of the pathway: in some clones (6/11) posterior to the morphogenetic furrow, Atonal is ectopically expressed, always in isolated cells. The basis for this phenotype is not understood, but it does not affect the region anterior to the furrow, which is under consideration here (Baonza, 2001).

Double Dlrev10;med8 mutant clones show a combination of the phenotypes observed in independent mutant clones of Delta and med. Thus, all internal clones analysed show Delta-like reduction of Atonal expression. In some of these clones there are regions where Atonal expression is totally lost, a phenotype observed in med clones. Also as in medea clones, posterior Dlrev10;Med8 clones are found that express Atonal ectopically. However, in this case, the Atonal expression is in clusters of cells, reflecting the fact that lateral inhibition is blocked in the absence of Delta (Baonza, 2001).

These results indicate that the initial expression of Atonal can be induced in the absence of Notch and Dpp signaling, implying that Hh signaling can, directly or via yet another intermediate, overcome the loss of function of both pathways (Baonza, 2001).

The progression of the morphogenetic furrow correlates with the modulated expression of the negative regulators of Atonal expression, Emc and Hairy. Hairy is expressed in a broad stripe anterior to the furrow and rapidly switched off in the furrow. Emc protein is present in all cells but the highest levels are present in a dorsoventral stripe of cells anterior to the domain of Hairy expression, whereas the lowest levels are observed in the furrow. Thus, the increase of Atonal expression in the proneural groups within the furrow is associated with the downregulation of both Emc and Hairy. Whether this downregulation of Emc and Hairy is mediated by Notch was tested by analyzing the expression of Emc and Hairy when Notch signaling is blocked and when it is ectopically activated (Baonza, 2001).

In mitotic clones of the Notch null allele N54/9, the expression of Hairy is displaced posteriorly extending behind the morphogenetic furrow. The consequent ectopic expression of Hairy within the furrow is accompanied by a reduction in Atonal expression: Atonal levels remain at the low level normally observed anterior to the furrow. Similar results were obtained with Delta clones. Reciprocally, when Notch signaling is ectopically activated in clones of Delta-expressing cells, Hairy is downregulated, both within the clone and in the cells immediately surrounding it. In these clones Emc is also downregulated within the clone, although for reasons that are not understood, Emc levels are unusually high in the wild-type cells that border the clone. The downregulation of Emc and Hairy caused by the ectopic expression of Delta correlates with increased expression of Atonal ahead of the furrow. It is concluded from these results that Delta/Notch signaling promotes Atonal activation and neural differentiation by downregulating the repressors Hairy and Emc (Baonza, 2001).

The most well characterized role of Notch signaling in R8 photoreceptor determination is mediating the process of lateral inhibition, which refines Atonal expression from a small group of cells to a single cell. However, an earlier and opposite role for Notch, this time promoting neural determination, has also been recognized, although how this 'proneural' function integrates with other pathways necessary for neural differentiation has been unclear. In this work, it has been shown that in normal eye development the proneural function of Notch signaling depends on prior Dpp signaling. Emc and Hairy, two negative regulators of Atonal expression, mediate the proneural function of Notch signaling in the eye. Thus, a model is proposed that links the upregulation of Atonal in the proneural groups with the downregulation of Hairy and Emc through the activation of Delta/Notch signaling (Baonza, 2001).

Thus a model is proposed specifically to integrate proneural Notch signaling into the concept of a progression of cell states, from undetermined to pre-proneural to proneural. Hh in the cells posterior to the morphogenetic furrow activates the expression of Dpp in the furrow. The data support the idea that as Dpp acts at a longer range than Hh, this relays a signal to a zone extending about 15 cells anterior to the furrow, priming these cells for differentiation. This makes cells competent to receive a later signal that upregulates Atonal expression, thereby initiating overt neural differentiation. This second signal is also dependent on Hh, but operates only much closer to the furrow: the evidence implies that it consists of Delta activating Notch signaling. The initial 'pre-proneural' state is molecularly defined by the accumulation of the repressors of atonal transcription Hairy and Emc, as well as by the positive regulator of Atonal, the HLH transcription factor Daughterless. Therefore, although Atonal and Daughterless are both expressed in this pre-proneural zone, neural differentiation is not initiated, as Hairy and Emc ensure that Atonal activity remains below a threshold. The Hh-dependent activation of Delta/Notch signaling triggers the transition from this pre-proneural state to the proneural state by downregulating both Hairy and Emc. This negative regulation of the Atonal repressors is sufficient to allow the accumulation of active Atonal in the proneural groups to a level where R8 determination is initiated.

Notch can only trigger Atonal upregulation in a zone extending 12-15 cells anterior to the furrow, and this zone is defined as the cells that receive the diffusible factor Dpp, whose source is in the furrow. Dpp acts to define a ‘pre-proneural’ state that prepares cells for the imminent initiation of neural determination. This pre-proneural state is defined as the zone of cells that initiate Hairy and Atonal expression in response to Dpp signaling. A functional definition to this state can be added: all these cells are primed for neural differentiation because all can respond to Notch activation by upregulating Atonal levels (Baonza, 2001).

Simultaneous loss of Hairy and Emc activity leads to the precocious differentiation of photoreceptors in a competent region ahead of the morphogenetic furrow, a phenotype that resembles that caused by ectopic expression of Delta. In addition, ectopic Notch signaling downregulates Hairy and Emc ahead of the morphogenetic furrow, causing the accumulation of Atonal at high levels; conversely, loss of function of Notch signaling increased the levels of Hairy. It is concluded that Delta/Notch signaling regulates the expression of these negative regulators in the eye. Consistent with this proposal, Emc is also regulated by Notch in the developing wing disc (Baonza, 2001).

Although Notch signaling negatively regulates both Hairy and Emc, the ectopic expression of Delta does not affect both genes identically. Thus, whereas Hairy is removed both within the clone and in the neighboring cells, Emc is only downregulated autonomously within the clone. This distinction could be an artifact caused by the perdurance of ß-galactosidase. Alternatively, these differences may reflect a different requirement for Notch signaling in the regulation of both genes. Furthermore, the expression pattern of Hairy and Emc is different during the normal progression of the morphogenetic furrow. Hairy is precisely regulated, being expressed only in the cells anterior to the furrow, and is rapidly downregulated in the furrow. This precise regulation is crucial as shown by the ectopic expression of hairy. Emc has a much broader expression pattern in the eye disc, although it shows a similar upregulation followed by downregulation in the zone immediately anterior to the furrow (Baonza, 2001).

It is also worth pointing out that not only does the expression pattern of Emc and Hairy differ, but their exact mechanism of repression is also distinct. Hairy regulates bHLH proteins by a mechanism of direct DNA binding and transcriptional repression. Emc, however, forms complexes with bHLH proteins, preventing their DNA binding. Thus, Emc can antagonize the proneural function of Atonal by two distinct mechanisms: (1) Emc presumably binds to Atonal, rendering it incapable of activating its targets; (2) Emc controls the levels of Atonal. By analogy to its regulation of two other bHLH transcriptional regulators, Achaete and Scute, it is expected that Emc interferes with the autoregulatory upregulation of atonal expression. This positive autoregulation is an essential component of its accumulation in cells within the morphogenetic furrow. In conclusion, the proneural action of Notch signaling increases Atonal activity by two mechanisms: atonal is transcriptionally upregulated, and at the same time a repressive co-factor is removed. These concerted actions lead to the accumulation of active Atonal and thereby the initiation of neural differentiation (Baonza, 2001).

Delta and Hairy establish a periodic prepattern that positions sensory bristles in Drosophila legs

In vertebrates and invertebrates, spatially defined proneural gene expression is an early and essential event in neuronal patterning. In this study, the mechanisms involved in establishing proneural gene expression were investigated in the primordia of a group of small mechanosensory bristles (microchaetae), which on the legs of the Drosophila adult are arranged in a series of longitudinal rows along the leg circumference. In prepupal legs, the proneural gene achaete (ac) is expressed in longitudinal stripes, which comprise the leg microchaete primordia. Periodic ac expression is partially established by the prepattern gene, hairy, which represses ac expression in four of eight interstripe domains. This study identifies Delta (Dl), which encodes a Notch (N) ligand, as a second leg prepattern gene. Hairy and Dl function concertedly and nonredundantly to define periodic ac expression. The regulation of periodic hairy expression was explored. In prior studies, it was found that expression of two hairy stripes along the D/V axis is induced in response to the Hedgehog (Hh), Decapentaplegic (Dpp) and Wingless (Wg) morphogens. This study shows that expression of two other hairy stripes along the orthogonal A/P axis is established through a distinct mechanism which involves uniform activation combined with repressive influences from Dpp and Wg. These findings allow formulation of a general model for generation of periodic pattern in the adult leg. This process involves broad and late activation of ac expression combined with refinement in response to a prepattern of repression, established by Hairy and Dl, which unfolds progressively during larval and early prepupal stages (Joshi, 2006).

Patterning of the leg imaginal disc along its circumference axis is controlled by the Hh, Dpp and Wg morphogens. This study sought to elucidate the molecular mechanisms through which these signals give rise to specific morphological features of the leg, the mechanosensory microchaetae. Patterning of leg mechanosensory microchaetae was shown to requires spatially defined expression of the proneural gene ac and its repressor Hairy. Expression of hairy in two pairs of longitudinal stripes, the D/V-hairy and A/P-hairy stripes, is directed by separate enhancers that are Hh-, Dpp- and Wg-responsive. The D/V-hairy and A/P-hairy stripes are differentially regulated by Dpp and Wg and distinct mechanisms are utilized to control hairy expression along the A/P and D/V axes. D/V-hairy expression is locally induced near the A/P compartment boundary by Hh signaling. In addition, Dpp and Wg positively influence expression of the dorsal and ventral components of the D/V-hairy stripes, respectively, by acting together with Hh to define the register of these stripes relative to the compartment boundary. In contrast, the A/P-hairy stripes, which are expressed orthogonal to the D/V-hairy stripes and A/P compartment boundary, are not activated via local induction. Rather, it appears that they are broadly activated along the leg circumference and repressed by Dpp dorsally and Wg ventrally to define their dorsal and ventral boundaries. This model for A/P-hairy regulation is supported by the observations that hairy is ectopically expressed in dorsal, but not ventral, clones lacking tkv or Mad function and that A/P-hairy expression is compromised by elevation of Dpp signaling. Furthermore, ventral, but not dorsal, clones lacking dsh function also ectopically express hairy and high-level Wg signaling results in loss of A/P-hairy expression (Joshi, 2006).

A potential caveat to this model for regulation of A/P-hairy expression is that conclusions were drawn from analysis of endogenous hairy expression rather than by examining expression directed by isolated A/P-hairy enhancer(s). Hence, it is possible that the ectopic hairy expression seen in tkv, Mad and dsh mutant clones is a result of expansion of D/V-hairy rather than A/P-hairy expression. However, several lines of evidence argue against this interpretation. First, through genetic and molecular analyses of D/V-hairy enhancer function, it has been demonstrated that Dpp and Wg positively regulate D/V-hairy expression, an observation that is inconsistent with the suggestion that D/V-hairy is ectopically expressed in clones unable to respond to Dpp or Wg signaling. Furthermore, in 3rd instar and early prepupal leg discs, stages at which the A/P-hairy stripes are not expressed, ectopic hairy expression is not observed in tkv mutant clones. Second, it was found that the D/V-hairy stripes can only be expressed in anterior compartment cells near the A/P boundary, which are the cells that receive and respond to Hh signal. Thus, it is unlikely that ectopic hairy expression observed in clones at distance from the compartment boundary, which receive little or no Hh signal, and in the posterior compartment, in which cells do not respond to Hh signal, corresponds to D/V-hairy expression. Finally, it was found that elevation of Dpp or Wg signaling specifically disrupts A/P-hairy but not D/V-hairy expression. Taken together, these findings are consistent with the conclusion that A/P-hairy rather than D/V-hairy is expressed in clones compromised in their response to Dpp and Wg signaling (Joshi, 2006).

This study identified Dl as a second prepattern gene that functions together with hairy to establish ac expression in the leg microchaete proneural fields. Several lines of evidence are are presented that support this conclusion. First, it was found that, beginning at 4 h APF, Dl expression is up-regulated in domains overlapping the microchaete proneural fields. This distribution of Dl is similar to that, in the notum, where Dl has been shown to regulate proneural ac expression. Second, it is shown that ac expression is expanded in legs with reduced Dl function. Third, it was found that elevated N signaling throughout the tarsus results in severely reduced ac expression. Finally, activation of N signaling was observed within the hairy-OFF interstripes (ac interstripes that do not express hairy), in agreement with the genetic requirement for Dl/N signaling in these domains. Based on these results, it is proposed that ac expression is activated broadly during mid-prepupal leg development but is confined to the microchaete proneural fields by a previously generated prepattern of repression, established by Hairy and Dl/N signaling. This hypothesis is supported by analysis of cis-regulatory elements that direct ac expression in the leg microchaete proneural fields (Joshi and Orenic, unpublished cited in Joshi, 2006). By generating rescue and reporter constructs, an enhancer has been identified that specifically controls expression of ac in the microchaete proneural fields. Unlike the hairy leg enhancers, no modular organization of the cis-regulatory elements that control expression of ac stripes in different regions of the leg is observed. Rather, preliminary analyses suggest that there is one enhancer consisting of an activation element that directs broad expression of ac along the leg circumference and two repression elements, which are N- or Hairy-responsive. This finding is consistent with genetic studies and the model for regulation of ac expression in the leg microchaete proneural fields (Joshi, 2006).

hairy and Dl function to repress ac expression in complementary domains. hairy encodes a transcriptional repressor which has been previously shown to directly repress ac expression in the wing by binding a specific site in the ac promoter. It is likely that Hairy acts through a similar site to repress ac expression in the leg. Dl represses ac expression via a different mechanism: presumably, cells of the microchaete proneural fields, which express high levels of Dl, signal to adjacent cells to activate N. This suggestion is supported by the observation that expression of two N-responsive reporters is specifically activated in cells corresponding to the hairy-OFF interstripes. One of the reporters used in this study, E(spl)mβ-CD2, and other similar reporters recapitulate endogenous E(spl)mβ-CD2 expression in wing and leg imaginal discs. E(spl)mβ is one of seven genes in the E(spl)-C that encode bHLH repressors related to Hairy. Hence, it appears that ac expression in the leg microchaete proneural fields may be established by a prepattern of periodically expressed bHLH repressors (Joshi, 2006).

N signaling is not activated within ac-expressing cells, even though these cells express high levels of Dl. This could be explained by a dominant-negative effect of Notch ligands on N signaling, which has been previously observed in the wing. In the wing, it has been shown that N signaling is not activated within cells expressing high levels of Dl and Ser but, rather, that these cells signal to adjacent cells to activate N signaling within the wing margin. Consistent with the hypothesis of a potential dominant-negative function for Dl in the leg microchaete proneural fields is the observation that over-expression of Dl along the leg circumference results in expansion of ac expression into the hairy-OFF interstripes, which would be expected if N signaling was disabled. Over-expression of N ligand expression has been shown to exert a similar effect in other tissues (Joshi, 2006).

A curious observation of this study is that, as suggested by genetic evidence and the expression of two N-responsive reporters, N signaling, with one exception, is not activated within the hairy-ON interstripes, even though each Hairy stripe is straddled on either side by a Dl stripe. This suggests either that Dl signals asymmetrically or that there is an asymmetric response to N signaling and raises questions regarding the underlying mechanism of asymmetric activation of N-target gene expression. A potential mechanism for asymmetric signaling by Dl is suggested by studies in the notum, in which it has been shown that the N receptor is distributed in a pattern complementary to Dl. If N levels were higher within the hairy-OFF vs. the hairy-ON interstripes in the leg, this could allow for preferential signaling within these domains. However, N expression was assayed in prepupal legs and it was found that N appears to be uniformly distributed along the leg circumference. Hence, either there is an asymmetric response to N or alternative mechanisms are responsible for establishing the directionality of Dl signaling in the leg, such as post-translational modification N signaling pathway components. For example, glycosylation of N by the Fringe glycosyltransferase influences its interactions with its ligands (Joshi, 2006).

Another intriguing finding is the overlap of N signaling with the V-Hairy stripe. This result was surprising because it would suggest redundancy between hairy and Dl/N signaling in this region. However, an absolute requirement was observed for hairy function in the ventral leg. An explanation for this puzzling finding is suggested by the specific loss of the V-Gbe+Su(H)m8-lacZ stripe in hairy mutant legs, which indicates that Dl/N signaling or responsiveness in the ventral leg is dependent on hairy function. The specific loss of N signaling in the ventral leg could be a result of the expansion of Dl expression in hairy mutant legs, which as explained earlier might have a dominant-negative effect on N signaling. This proposal is corroborated by the expansion of ac expression along the circumference of legs ectopically expressing Dl throughout the tarsus. The overlap of hairy and Dl/N signaling in the ventral leg raises questions regarding the function of Dl/N signaling in this domain. It was observed that V-hairy and Gbe+Su(H)m8-lacZ expression overlap only partially, suggesting that combined function of Dl and Hairy in the ventral leg could serve to establish a broader domain of repression in this region in comparison to other interstripe domains. This idea is supported by the morphology of the adult leg tarsus in which the spacing of bristles is most pronounced along the ventral midline. However, the function of N in the ventral leg is not as yet clear. It is plausible that there is a role for Dl/N signaling in the ventral leg that is unrelated to regulation of ac expression (Joshi, 2006).

The potential function of Dl as a regulator of proneural ac expression in the leg was suggested by studies in the notum, on which mechanosensory microchaetae are also organized in longitudinal rows. In the notum, Dl/Notch signaling, rather than Hairy, regulates periodic ac expression. The current studies suggest a distinct mechanism for leg microchaete patterning in which Hairy and Dl act together and nonredundantly to define periodic ac expression. In both the leg and notum, Dl signals to adjacent cells to repress ac expression. However, whereas in the notum Dl activates N signaling in cells on either side of each Dl/Ac stripe, in the leg, N signaling is activated (with one exception) only within the hairy-OFF interstripes. Although the pattern of mechanosensory bristles on the leg and notum is overtly similar, the bristle rows are more precisely aligned in the leg. The more organized pattern on the leg may be a consequence of the combined function of Hairy and Dl which might more precisely define the domains of proneural gene expression (Joshi, 2006).

Dl function is essential for proper patterning of ac expression and it is suggested that accurate positioning of the Dl stripes is necessary for activation of Notch signaling within appropriate domains. Hence, regulation of Dl expression is an important aspect of leg microchaete patterning. In legs lacking hairy function, Dl expression expands into four broad domains and ectopic hairy expression greatly reduces Dl expression, indicating that periodic expression of Dl is regulated in part by hairy. Concomitant with the expansion of Dl expression, there is loss of N signaling in the ventral leg, suggesting that hairy functions to create an apposition of cells expressing high levels of Dl to cells expressing low levels of Dl, which allows for activation of N signaling in the ventral leg. Regulation of Dl expression in proneural fields is not understood. A plausible hypothesis is that, like hairy, Dl expression is established in response to the morphogens that control pattern formation during leg development (Joshi, 2006).

This and previous studies suggest an outline of general genetic pathway for the regulation of ac expression in the leg microchaete proneural fields. This process involves broad and late activation, by an unknown factor, of ac expression along the leg circumference combined with refinement in response to a prepattern of repressors, which is established during larval and early prepupal stages. Hairy and Dl have been identified as the primary prepattern factors that regulate ac expression along the leg circumference. Position-specific expression of both hairy and Dl in longitudinal stripes is essential for proper ac expression. The longitudinal stripes of hairy are established in direct response to the Hh, Dpp and Wg signals, which globally pattern the leg, indicating that hairy acts as an interface between ac and these morphogens. Dl expression is regulated by Hairy, but its regulation is otherwise poorly understood. In addition to elucidating a pathway for establishment of periodic ac expression during leg development, these studies also provide insight into the mechanisms through which morphogens function to generate leg morphology (Joshi, 2006).

Periodic ac expression is established progressively. The first evidence of periodicity is expression of the longitudinal stripes of hairy expression. The D/V-hairy stripes are expressed first in the early 3rd instar leg disc followed by the A/P-stripes between 3 and 4 h APF. Between 4 and 6 h APF, Dl expression within the mechanosensory microchaete primordia is established. Then, ac expression is activated uniformly along the leg circumference. By the time that ac expression is activated, the interstripe domains have been defined by the four Hairy stripes and Dl/N signaling (Joshi, 2006).

The delay of ac expression in the microchaete proneural fields until mid-prepupal stages is likely due to the requirement of ac function for formation of all leg sensory organs. Leg sensory bristles can be grouped into two broad categories based on their time of specification: one group includes the early-specified mechanosensory macrochaetae (large bristles) and chemosensory microchaetae, and the second group includes the more numerous late-specified mechanosensory microchaetae. During the 3rd instar and early prepupal stages, ac is expressed in small clusters of cells that define the primordia of early-specified bristles, while expression of ac in the mechanosensory microchaete primordia is activated later in the mid-prepupal stage. This late expression of ac is activated broadly along the leg circumference and is presumably delayed to allow for expression of the hairy and Dl stripes during earlier stages. Premature expression of this normally late ac expression would likely lead to disturbances in sensory organ patterning, suggesting that temporal control of ac expression is an important aspect of its regulation (Joshi, 2006).

Functional analysis of the NHR2 domain indicates that oligomerization of Neuralized regulates ubiquitination and endocytosis of Delta during Notch signaling

The Notch pathway plays an integral role in development by regulating cell fate in a wide variety of multicellular organisms. A critical step in the activation of Notch signaling is the endocytosis of the Notch ligands Delta and Serrate. Ligand endocytosis is regulated by one of two E3 ubiquitin ligases, Neuralized (Neur) or Mind bomb. Neur is comprised of a C-terminal RING domain, which is required for Delta ubiquitination, and two Neur homology repeat (NHR) domains. Previous studies have shown that the NHR1 domain is required for Delta trafficking. This study shows that the NHR1 domain also affects the binding and internalization of Serrate. Furthermore, it was shown that the NHR2 domain is required for Neur function and that a point mutation in the NHR2 domain (Gly430) abolishes Neur ubiquitination activity and affects ligand internalization. Finally, evidence is provided that Neur can form oligomers in both cultured cells and fly tissues, which regulate Neur activity and, by extension, ligand internalization (Liu, 2012).

Neur is an E3-ubiquitin ligase that plays an essential role in Notch signaling by regulating the endocytosis of Notch ligands. It contains NHR domains, which are rare and conserved between vertebrates and invertebrates but not present in viruses, bacteria, fungi, or plants. In the Drosophila proteome, besides Neuralized, there are two other NHR-containing proteins, CG3894 and Bluestreak. In mammals, proteins containing NHR domains (also known as NEUZ) include the β-catenin regulator OzzE3 and lung-inducible Neuralized-related C3HC4 RING protein (LINCR). Recent studies reported that the human homologue of Bluestreak serves to localize to the centrosome. Although the general role of the NHR domains is unclear, these domains tend to cluster, and most proteins contain two to six NHR domains. The significance of having more than one NHR domain in one protein is to yet be determined (Liu, 2012).

This study has investigated the role of the highly conserved NHR domains in Neur function. The NHR1 domain alone mediates the interaction between Neur and both Delta and Serrate. It was also shown that the NHR2 domain is required for Neur function, and while it is not required for the interaction with Notch ligands, it is involved in Dl internalization, a critical step in Notch activation. Moreover, the NHR domains play a role in Neur oligomerization, which in turn could contribute to Neur ubiquitination activity and ligand endocytosis (Liu, 2012).

The NHR1 domain mediates the interaction between Neur and the Notch ligands Delta and Serrate. Previous studies have shown that the NHR1 domain of Neur is both necessary and sufficient for the interaction with the Notch ligand Dl. Specifically, it was found that a point mutation in a highly conserved glycine residue within the NHR1 domain (G167E) abolishes the ability of Neur to bind Delta. Whether the NHR1 domain was also required to bind to Serrate, however, was unknown. In fact, in vitro studies in vertebrates suggested that the NHR2 domain in mouse Neuralized- like 1 (Neurl1) is sufficient to bind to Jagged1, the mouse orthologue of Serrate. In contrast, the current study found that the NHR2 domain is not required for Neur to bind Serrate in Drosophila and that the interaction is mediated entirely by the NHR1 domain. Other studies reported previously that the motifs on Dl and Ser that mediate the interaction with Neur are conserved. In comparisons of protein sequences, Jagged1 and Serrate share 40.7% similarity overall, while the overall similarity between Jagged1 and Dl is 33.8%. The NHR1 and NHR2 domains from Drosophila Neuralized have the same degree of amino acid similarity with the mouse Neurl1 NHR2 domain (33%). Since there is no clear correlation between protein sequence similarity and the ability of either the NHR1 or the NHR2 domain to interact with Notch ligands, whether NHR1 or NHR2 is important for interacting with ligands is likely to be species dependent. The Neur-Ser interaction was found to be abrogated by the G167E mutation in the NHR1 domain. Given that the NeurG167E mutant still retains ubiquitination activity, it is unlikely to affect overall protein folding. A previously reported structural analysis of the Drosophila NHR1 domain suggested that Gly167 resides in a hydrophobic core and that the Gly167 mutation presumably destabilizes the surrounding microenvironment. Therefore, the Gly167 mutation may result in spatial changes in the neighboring residues of the core, thus abolishing binding to ligands (Liu, 2012).

The G430E mutation reveals a distinct role for the NHR2 domain in the regulation of Neur activity and Delta trafficking. The data demonstrate that the NHR2 domain is required for Neur function in vivo. NeurG430E fails to rescue neur mutant embryos, while NeurNHR2 has some residual activity, which suggests that they affect different aspects of Neur function. The expression of NeurG430 in a heterozygous background, which does not have a neurogenic phenotype on its own, resulted in a significant increase in the percentage of neurogenic embryos, suggesting that NeurG430E has a negative effect on Neur function. In contrast, NeurNHR2 overexpression did not have any effect on heterozygous embryos, suggesting that it behaves as a loss-of-function allele. Despite the fact that the two NHR2 mutant proteins NeurG430E and NeurNHR2 behave differently, they both localize to the plasma membrane in the presence of Delta both in vitro and in vivo, and they are both capable of binding to the Notch ligands Delta and Serrate. However, both mutant proteins affect the extent of Dl internalization to various degrees. NeurG430E exhibits severely compromised ubiquitination activity and is no longer capable of inducing Delta internalization. NeurNHR2, on the other hand, retains ubiquitination activity but is much less efficient than WT Neur at directing Dl internalization in vivo or in Kc cells. The precise mechanism by which NeurNHR2 affects Delta endocytosis is unclear (Liu, 2012).

One possibility is that the NHR2 domain is required for Neur oligomerization. Neur was shown to form NHR domain-mediated oligomers by coimmunoprecipitation experiments. Therefore, the deletion of the NHR2 domain (NeurNHR2) may simply reduce the oligomerization potential of Neur, leading to a decrease in ligand endocytosis. In contrast, the point mutation (NeurG430) might disrupt the overall structure of the NHR2 domain, preventing oligomerization and resulting in a protein that has no ubiquitination activity and therefore can no longer internalize ligands. However, this model cannot fully explain the data, which show that NHR2 does not prevent Neur oligomerization and that Neur oligomerization still occurs in the absence of any NHR domains, suggesting that while the NHR domains may play a role in oligomerization, they are not necessary for this process. The data also show that although the G430E mutant loses ubiquitination activity, the double mutant containing the NHR1 deletion and the G430E mutation retains ubiquitination activity, which argues that G430E does not affect the overall folding of the NHR2 domain (Liu, 2012).

Another possibility is that the NHR1 and NHR2 domains initially form an intramolecular structure that is inactive and must be resolved for ubiquitination to promote ligand internalization. The G430E mutation may lock Neur into an intramolecular conformation through an NHR1-NHR2 interaction, such that this inactive form can still bind to Dl and Ser but cannot form oligomers and has no ubiquitination activity as a consequence of dysfunctional oligomerization. This model, in contrast to the former one, is supported by the data that demonstrate that the G430E mutant no longer forms oligomers and has no ubiquitination activity. Furthermore, when the NHR1 domain was removed from the G430E mutant (NeurNHR1G430E), the ubiquitination activity was restored, suggesting that the intramolecular loop can no longer form, whereas intermolecular interactions between NHR1 and NHR2 domains can occur. It may also explain the negative effect of NeurG430E on NeurWT: although NeurG430E has a reduced ability to bind WT Neur, it is still be able to sequester some portion of NeurWT into a nonfunctional intermolecular oligomer that can no longer ubiquitinate targets. In contrast, the deletion of the NHR2 domain would prevent intramolecular interactions but would be expected to have a reduced ability to form productive oligomers, leading to a defect in ligand internalization. Whether the NHR2 domain has additional roles in recruiting a protein(s) that promotes Notch ligand ubiquitination and endocytosis remains to be determined. Like Neuralized, other RING domain E3 ligases often function as oligomers, and they multimerize in different ways: some form heterodimers, such as Mdm2-MdmX, and some can form homo-oligomers, such as TRAF. The functional significance of RING E3 oligomerization is poorly defined. One previously proposed model is that the oligomerization of E3 ligases may functionally resemble the dimerization of receptor tyrosine kinases in such a way that autoubiquitination yields a mark that serves as a platform to assemble a signaling complex. Consistent with this idea, ubiquitination was seen in anti-Neur IPs when Dl was not present, consistent with the idea that Neur may be autoubiquitinated. Whether this autoubiquitination can initiate a cascade of further downstream ubiquitination events remains to be determined. It is possible that oligomerization is mediated via autoubiquitination and the interaction of ubiquitinated Neur with itself through a ubiquitin-binding motif (UIM). If so, then the NHR1-NHR2 interaction could also function to keep Neur in an inactive state by occluding the putative UIM. Such a model of Ubi-UIM complex formation was previously proposed for other endocytic proteins (Liu, 2012).

In summary, this study has shown that NHR domains are protein-protein interaction modules that are required for many aspects of Neur function. The NHR1 domain mediates the interaction between Neur and its targets Dl and Ser. Both NHR domains appear to regulate Neur activity by affecting its ability to form oligomers and/or interact with proteins required for the endocytosis of Notch ligands. Interestingly, NHR domains have been identified in several other proteins that are conserved between flies and humans. Whether Neur can form heterodimers with these other NHR-containing proteins and whether these heterodimers play a role in Notch signaling and other developmental processes remain to be determined (Liu, 2012).

Sensitized genetic backgrounds reveal differential roles for EGF repeat xylosyltransferases in Drosophila Notch signaling

In multicellular organisms, glycosylation regulates various developmental signaling pathways including the Notch pathway. One of the O-linked glycans added to epidermal growth factor-like (EGF) repeats in animal proteins including the Notch receptors is the xylose-xylose-glucose-O oligosaccharide. Drosophila glucoside xylosyltransferase (Gxylt) Shams negatively regulates Notch signaling in specific contexts. Since Shams adds the first xylose residue to O-glucose, its loss-of-function phenotype could be due to the loss of the first xylose, the second xylose or both. To examine the contribution of the second xylose residues to Drosophila Notch signaling, biochemical and genetic analysis was performed on CG11388, which is the Drosophila homolog of human xyloside xylosyltransferase 1 (XXYLT1). Experiments in S2 cells indicated that similar to human XXYLT1, CG11388 can add the second xylose to xylose-glucose-O glycans. Flies lacking both copies of CG11388 (Xxylt) are viable and fertile and do not show gross phenotypes indicative of altered Notch signaling. However, genetic interaction experiments show that in sensitized genetic backgrounds with decreased or increased Notch pathway components, loss of Xxylt promotes Delta-mediated activation of Notch. Unexpectedly, it was found that in such sensitized backgrounds, even loss of one copy of the fly Gxylt shams enhances Delta-mediated Notch activation. Taken together, these data indicate that while the first xylose plays a key role in tuning the Delta-mediated Notch signaling in Drosophila, the second xylose has a fine-tuning role only revealed in sensitized genetic backgrounds (Pandey, 2018).

Notch signaling regulates neural stem cell quiescence entry and exit in Drosophila

Stem cells enter and exit quiescence as part of normal developmental programs and to maintain tissue homeostasis in adulthood. Although it is clear that stem cell intrinsic and extrinsic cues, local and systemic, regulate quiescence, it remains unclear whether intrinsic and extrinsic cues coordinate to control quiescence and how cue coordination is achieved. This study reports that Notch signaling coordinates neuroblast intrinsic temporal programs with extrinsic nutrient cues to regulate quiescence in Drosophila. When Notch activity is reduced, quiescence is delayed or altogether bypassed, with some neuroblasts dividing continuously during the embryonic-to-larval transition. During embryogenesis before quiescence, neuroblasts express Notch and the Notch ligand Delta. After division, Delta is partitioned to adjacent GMC daughters where it transactivates Notch in neuroblasts. Over time, in response to intrinsic temporal cues and increasing numbers of Delta-expressing daughters, neuroblast Notch activity increases, leading to cell cycle exit and consequently, attenuation of Notch pathway activity. Quiescent neuroblasts have low to no active Notch, which is required for exit from quiescence in response to nutrient cues. Thus, Notch signaling coordinates proliferation versus quiescence decisions (Sood, 2022).

This study reports that Notch signaling regulates quiescence, entry and exit in Drosophila central brain (CB) NBs. Increasing Notch pathway activity induces CB NBs to exit cell cycle via a Dap-dependent mechanism. Dap, a cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor and CIP/KIP family member, is a known Notch target gene as is Cyclin E, String (Cdc25) and E2F. Whether Notch regulates other cell cycle genes required for CB NB exit remains unknown. Once CB NBs stop dividing, Notch pathway activity becomes attenuated. Low to no Notch activity is required for CB NBs to exit quiescence in response to dietary nutrient cues. Thus, levels of CB NB Notch activity regulate both the entry and exit from quiescence. High Notch is required for entry, whereas low Notch is required for exit. Intestinal stem cells (ISCs) also experience a period of low to no Notch activity during mid-pupal stages and, if Notch is ectopically induced at this time, ISCs terminally differentiate into secretory enteroendocrine cells. Whether any of the quiescent CB NBs with ectopic Notch terminally differentiate remains unknown (Sood, 2022).

Although Notch is required for quiescence, most CB NBs do stop dividing, albeit late. This suggests that other genes or signaling pathways are required or that residual Notch activity is sufficient to induce CB NB quiescence. Unfortunately, Notch null mutants are embryonic lethal. In addition, this study has shown that Notch is sufficient to induce quiescence. Although quiescence occurs prematurely, it is still restricted to late embryonic stages. Restriction of Notch function (cell cycle exit) is likely due to CB NB intrinsic temporal programs. Temporal programs that likely vary across CB NB lineages, as is the case in the ventral nerve cord. Whether temporal programs regulate levels of Notch pathway activity or provide additional factors needed for CB NB cell cycle exit remains unanswered (Sood, 2022).

In mammals, Notch signaling is more complicated because of gene duplication. Yet, recently, Notch signaling has been shown to regulate neural stem cell quiescence. In Notch2 conditional knockout mice, more neural stem cells are actively dividing in the hippocampus and subventricular zone brain regions in adult animals compared with controls. This results in premature depletion of the neural stem pool and reduced neurogenesis in older mice. This is similar to what is reported in this study and, in the future, it will be interesting to determine which Notch ligands are required and whether neural stem cells in mammals use their newborn daughters for pathway activation (Sood, 2022).


There are two major transcripts and three minor ones. The 4.5 transcript is maternal (Kopczynski, 1989). The transcripts differ in the length of their 3'UTR. Minor transcripts consisting of introns of the Delta gene accumulate in the nucleus (Haenlin, 1990).

genomic DNA length - 25kb

cDNA clone length - 5.4 and 4.5 kb

Bases in 5' UTR -136

Exons - six

Bases in 3' UTR - 224


Amino Acids - 832

Structural Domains

The protein sequence deduced from the cDNA sequence contains the following four elements: an N-terminal signal peptide required for transport across the membrane, an extracellular domain to residue 596, a transmembrane domain to residue 617, and an intracellular domain of 214 amino acids. There are five consensus asparagine-linked potential glycosylation sites. From residue 217 to 566 there are nine repeats of a 44 amino acid domain homologous to the vertebrate epidermal growth factor receptor. EGF repeats are found in Notch and in many other proteins including integrin and laminin (Kopczynski, 1988). The EGF domain has a major role in differentiation in many characterized developmental systems.

Delta: Evolutionary Homologs | Regulation | Protein Interactions | Developmental Biology | Effects of Mutation | References

date revised: 15 August 2023

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