Argos is a secreted molecule with an atypical EGF motif. It was recently shown to function as an inhibitor of the signaling triggered by the Drosophila EGF receptor (DER). In this work, we determine the contribution of Argos to the establishment of cell fates in the embryonic ventral ectoderm. Graded activation of DER is essential for patterning the ventral ectoderm. argos mutant embryos show expansion of ventral cell fates suggesting hyperactivation of the DER pathway. In the embryonic ventral ectoderm, argos is expressed in the ventralmost row of cells. We show that argos expression in the ventral ectoderm is induced by the DER pathway: argos is not expressed in DER mutant embryos, while it is ectopically expressed in the entire ventral ectoderm following ubiquitous activation of the DER pathway. argos expression appears to be triggered directly by the DER pathway, since induction can also be observed in cell culture, following activation of DER by its ligand, Spitz. Argos therefore functions in a sequential manner, to restrict the duration and level of DER signaling. This type of inhibitory feedback loop may represent a general paradigm for signaling pathways inducing diverse cell fates within a population of non-committed cells.

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