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Open Access Research article

The function and regulation of the bHLH gene, cato, in Drosophila neurogenesis

Petra I zur Lage and Andrew P Jarman*

Author Affiliations

Centre for Integrative Physiology, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9XD, UK

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BMC Developmental Biology 2010, 10:34  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-10-34

Published: 26 March 2010

Abstract

Background

bHLH transcription factors play many roles in neural development. cousin of atonal (cato) encodes one such factor that is expressed widely in the developing sensory nervous system of Drosophila. However, nothing definitive was known of its function owing to the lack of specific mutations.

Results

We characterised the expression pattern of cato in detail using newly raised antibodies and GFP reporter gene constructs. Expression is predominantly in sensory lineages that depend on the atonal and amos proneural genes. In lineages that depend on the scute proneural gene, cato is expressed later and seems to be particularly associated with the type II neurons. Consistent with this, we find evidence that cato is a direct target gene of Atonal and Amos, but not of Scute. We generated two specific mutations of cato. Mutant embryos show several defects in chordotonal sensory lineages, most notably the duplication of the sensory neuron, which appears to be caused by an extra cell division. In addition, we show that cato is required to form the single chordotonal organ that persists in atonal mutant embryos.

Conclusions

We conclude that although widely expressed in the developing PNS, cato is expressed and regulated very differently in different sensory lineages. Mutant phenotypes correlate with cato's major expression in the chordotonal sensory lineage. In these cells, we propose that it plays roles in sense organ precursor maintenance and/or identity, and in controlling the number of cell divisions in the neuronal branch of the lineage arising from these precursors.