Imaginal discs of Drosophila are simple epithelial tissues that undergo dramatic changes in shape during metamorphosis, including elongation to form adult appendages such as legs and wings. We have examined the cellular basis of leg disc morphogenesis by staining filamentous actin to outline cell boundaries in discs and observing cell shapes with scanning confocal laser microscopy (SCLM). Surprisingly, we found that prior to the onset of morphogenesis, cells in the dorsal-lateral regions of leg discs are compressed in the proximal-distal axis and greatly elongated circumferentially. These cells are also asymmetric in the apical-basal axis, being more elongated in the apical-most region of the cell than they are subapically, and frequently contacting different sets of neighbors apically and basally. Elongated cells were first observed in early third instar discs, and persisted through several rounds of cell division as the discs matured. During appendage elongation in vivo and trypsin-accelerated elongation in vitro, these highly asymmetric cells became isometric. As the apical cell profiles changed shape, apical and basal cell contacts came into register. Measurements of apical cell dimensions suggest that changes in cell shape account for most of the elongation in the basitarsal and tibial leg segments between 0 and 6 h after puparium formation (AP). The conversion of a stable population of anisometric cells to isometric dimensions constitutes a novel mechanism for altering the proportions of an epithelial sheet during development.

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