The leech embryo develops its segmental body plan by means of a stereotyped cell lineage. Each hemilateral segment arises from a small set of embryonic blast cells via a comparable sequence of formative cell divisions, and for the most part, lineally homologous cells manifest similar patterns of differentiation in the various heniisegments. Nonetheless, some identified central neurons undergo segment-specific or laterally asymmetric patterns of neuropeptide expression and/or cell death. Certain aspects of this regional diversification result from competitive cell interactions which occur at the level of the postmitotic neuron. However, the neuron's segmental identity is lineally determined, being inherited from its blast cell progenitor over several intervening rounds of mitosis. To learn more about the molecular basis of this phenomenon, we have isolated and begun to characterize leech homeobox genes which are related to the genes that govern segmental identity in other organisms.

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