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Molecular Neurogenetics of Eye Development in Drosophila


Renfranz, Patricia Jean (1989) Molecular Neurogenetics of Eye Development in Drosophila. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/15zs-fh27.


The compound eye of Drosophila melanogaster begins to differentiate during the late third larval instar in the eye-antennal imaginal disc. A wave of morphogenesis crosses the disc from posterior to anterior, leaving behind precisely patterned clusters of photoreceptor cells and accessory cells that will constitute the adult ommatidia of the retina. By the analysis of genetically mosaic eyes, it appears that any cell in the eye disc can adopt the characteristics of any one of the different cell types found in the mature eye, including photoreceptor cells and non-neuronal accessory cells such as cone cells. Therefore, cells within the prospective retinal epithelium assume different fates presumably via information present in the environment. The sevenless⁺ (sev⁺) gene appears to play a role in the expression of one of the possible fates, since the mutant phenotype is the lack of one of the pattern elements, namely, photoreceptor cell R7. The sev⁺ gene product had been shown to be required during development of the eye, and had also been shown in genetic mosaics to be autonomous to presumptive R7. As a means of better understanding the pathway instructing the differentiation R7, the gene and its protein product were characterized.

The sev⁺ gene was cloned by P-element transposon tagging, and was found to encode an 8.2 kb transcript expressed in developing eye discs and adult heads. By raising monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) against a sev⁺-β-galactosidase fusion protein, the expression of the protein in the eye disc was localized by immuno-electronmicroscopy. The protein localizes to the apical cell membranes and microvilli of cells in the eye disc epithelium. It appears during development at a time coincident with the initial formation of clusters, and in all the developing photoreceptors and accessory cone cells at a time prior to the overt differentiation of R7. This result is consistent with the pluripotency of cells in the eye disc. Its localization in the membranes suggests that it may receive information directing the development of R7. Its localization in the apical membranes and microvilli is away from the bulk of the cell contacts, which have been cited as a likely regions for information presentation and processing. Biochemical characterization of the sev⁺ protein will be necessary to describe further its role in development.

Other mutations in Drosophila have eye phenotypes. These were analyzed to find which ones affected the initial patterning of cells in the eye disc, in order to identify other genes, like sev, whose gene products may be involved in generating the pattern. The adult eye phenotypes ranged from severe reduction of the eye, to variable numbers of photoreceptor cells per ommatidium, to sub de defects in the organization of the supporting cells. Developing eye discs from the different strains were screened using a panel of MAbs, which highlight various developmental stages. Two identified matrix elements in and anterior to the furrow, while others identified the developing ommatidia themselves, like the anti-sev MAb. Mutation phenotypes were shown to appear at many stages of development. Some mutations seem to affect the precursor cells, others, the setting up of the pattern, and still others, the maintenance of the pattern. Thus, additional genes have now been identified that may function to support the development of a complex pattern.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Biology
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Major Option:Biology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Benzer, Seymour
Thesis Committee:
  • Benzer, Seymour (chair)
  • Anderson, David J.
  • Meyerowitz, Elliot M.
  • Simon, Melvin I.
  • Sternberg, Paul W.
Defense Date:15 December 1988
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Lawrence A. Hanson FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:08262013-140100846
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7944
Deposited On:26 Aug 2013 21:33
Last Modified:30 Sep 2021 00:56

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