The eye-antennal disc of Drosophila is composed of three cell layers: a columnar epithelium called the disc proper (DP); an overlying sheet of squamous cells called the peripodial epithelium (PE); and a strip of cuboidal cells that joins the other two cellular sheets to each other and comprises the outer margin (M) of the disc. The M cells play an important role in patterning the eye because it is here that the Hedgehog (Hh), Decapentaplegic (Dpp) and JAK/STAT pathways function to initiate pattern formation. Dpp signaling is lost from the margin of eyes absent (eya) mutant discs and, as a result, the initiation of retinal patterning is blocked. Based on these observations, Eya has been proposed to control the initiation of the morphogenetic furrow via regulation of Dpp signaling within the M. We show that the failure in pattern formation surprisingly results from M cells prematurely adopting a head epidermis fate. This switch in fate normally takes place during pupal development after the eye has been patterned. Our results suggest that the timing of cell fate decisions is essential for correct eye development.

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