We describe the regulated expression of the segmentation gene giant (gt) during early embryogenesis. The gt protein is expressed in two broad gradients in precellular embryos, one in anterior regions and the other in posterior regions. Double immunolocalization studies show that the gt patterns overlap with protein gradients specified by the gap genes hunchback (hb) and knirps (kni). Analysis of all known gap mutants, as well as mutations that disrupt each of the maternal organizing centers, indicate that maternal factors are responsible for initiating gt expression, while gap genes participate in the subsequent refinement of the pattern. The maternal morphogen bicoid (bcd) initiates the anterior gt pattern, while nanos (nos) plays a role in the posterior pattern. Gene dosage studies indicate that different thresholds of the bcd gradient might trigger hb and gt expression, resulting in overlapping but noncoincident patterns of expression. We also present evidence that different concentrations of hb protein are instructive in defining the limits of kni and gt expression within the presumptive abdomen. These results suggest that gt is a bona fide gap gene, which acts with hb, Kruppel and kni to initiate striped patterns of gene expression in the early embryo.

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