The stable maintenance of expression patterns of homeotic genes depends on the function of a number of negative trans-regulators, termed the Polycomb (Pc) group of genes. We have examined the pattern of expression of the Drosophila segment polarity gene, engrailed (en), in embryos mutant for several different members of the Pc group. Here we report that embryos mutant for two or more Pc group genes show strong ectopic en expression, while only weak derepression of en occurs in embryos mutant for a single Pc group gene. This derepression is independent of two known activators of en expression: en itself and wingless. Additionally, in contrast to the strong ectopic expression of homeotic genes observed in extra sex combs- (esc-) mutant embryos, the en expression pattern is nearly normal in esc- embryos. This suggests that the esc gene product functions in a pathway independent of the other genes in the group. The data indicate that the same group of genes is required for stable restriction of en expression to a striped pattern and for the restriction of expression of homeotic genes along the anterior-posterior axis, and support a global role for the Pc group genes in stable repression of activity of developmental selector genes.

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