The lethal of scute (l'sc) genetic function, which plays an essential role in the early development of the central nervous system of the Drosophila embryo, is localized within the achaete-scute complex (AS-C). Several lines of evidence have suggested that the AS-C T3 transcription unit corresponds to the l'sc function. We demonstrate that short fragments of DNA, containing the T3 transcribed region and a few kilobases of flanking sequences, rescue, albeit partially, the lethality and neural phenotype of l'sc deletions. Still, the complex wild-type pattern of expression of T3 is not reproduced by the transduced genes. This depends on cis-control elements scattered within the entire AS-C DNA and intermingled with regulatory elements specific for other AS-C transcription units. These elements are necessary for the initial activation of T3 in the neuroectoderm, probably mediated by axis-patterning genes. The presence of a cluster of E-boxes, upstream of the T3 transcribed region, suggests another level of control of T3 expression by basic-helix-loop-helix proteins, among them its own gene product.

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