Notch is a cell surface receptor that mediates a wide variety of cellular interactions that specify cell fate during Drosophila development. Recently, homologs of Drosophila Notch have been isolated from Xenopus, human and rat, and the expression patterns of these vertebrate proteins suggest that they may be functionally analogous to their Drosophila counterpart. We have now identified a second rat gene that exhibits substantial nucleic and amino acid sequence identity to Drosophila Notch. This gene, designated Notch2, encodes a protein that contains all the structural motifs characteristic of a Notch protein. Thus, mammals differ from Drosophila in having more than one Notch gene. Northern and in situ hybridisation analyses in the developing and adult rat identify distinct spatial and temporal patterns of expression for Notch1 and Notch2, indicating that these genes are not redundant. These results suggest that the great diversity of cell-fate decisions regulated by Notch in Drosophila may be further expanded in vertebrates by the activation of distinct Notch proteins.

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