Central nervous system midline cells constitute a discrete group of Drosophila embryonic cells with numerous functional and developmental roles. Corresponding to their separate identity, the midline cells display patterns of gene expression distinct from the lateral central nervous system. A conserved 5 base pair sequence (ACGTG) was identified in central nervous system midline transcriptional enhancers of three genes. Germ-line transformation experiments indicate that this motif forms the core of an element required for central nervous system midline transcription. The central nervous system midline element is related to the mammalian xenobiotic response element, which regulates transcription of genes that metabolize aromatic hydrocarbons. These data suggest a model whereby related basic-helix-loop-helix-PAS proteins interact with asymmetric E-box-like target sequences to control these disparate processes.

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