In contrast to the segmentation of the embryonic trunk region which has been extensively studied, relatively little is known about the development and segmentation of the Drosophila head. Proper development of the cephalic region requires the informational input of three of the four maternal coordinate systems. Head-specific gene expression is set up in response to a complex interaction between the maternally provided gene products and zygotically expressed genes. Several zygotic genes involved in head development have recently been characterized. A genetic analysis suggests that the segmentation of the head may use a mechanism different from the one acting in the trunk. The two genes of the sloppy paired locus (slp1 and slp2) are also expressed in the embryonic head. slp1 plays a predominant role in head formation while slp2 is largely dispensible. A detailed analysis of the slp head phenotype suggests that slp is important for the development of the mandibular segment as well as two adjacent pregnathal segments (antennal and ocular). Our analysis of regulatory interactions of slp with maternal and zygotic genes suggests that it behaves like a gap gene. Thus, phenotype and regulation of slp support the view that slp acts as a head-specific gap gene in addition to its function as a pair-rule and segment polarity gene in the trunk. We show that all three maternal systems active in the cephalic region are required for proper slp expression and that the different systems cooperate in the patterning of the head. The terminal and anterior patterning system appear to be closely linked. This cooperation is likely to involve a direct interaction between the bcd morphogen and the terminal system. Low levels of terminal system activity seem to potentiate bcd as an activator of slp, whereas high levels down-regulate bcd rendering it inactive. Our analysis suggests that dorsal, the morphogen of the dorsoventral system, and the head-specific gap gene empty spiracles act as repressor and corepressor in the regulation of slp. We discuss how positional information established independently along two axes can act in concert to control gene regulation in two dimensions.

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