The embryonic peripheral nervous system of Drosophila contains two main types of sensory neurons: type I neurons, which innervate external sense organs and chordotonal organs, and type II multidendritic neurons. Here, we analyse the origin of the difference between type I and type II in the case of the neurons that depend on the proneural genes of the achaete-scute complex (ASC). We show that, in Notch- embryos, the type I neurons are missing while type II neurons are produced in excess, indicating that the type I/type II choice relies on Notch-mediated cell communication. In contrast, both type I and type II neurons are absent in numb- embryos and after ubiquitous expression of tramtrack, indicating that the activity of numb and the absence of tramtrack are required to produce both external sense organ and multidendritic neural fates. The analysis of string- embryos reveals that when the precursors are unable to divide they differentiate mostly into type II neurons, indicating that the type II is the default neuronal fate. We also report a new mutant phenotype where the ASC-dependent neurons are converted into type II neurons, providing evidence for the existence of one or more genes required for maintaining the alternative (type I) fate. Our results suggest that the same mechanism of type I/type II specification may operate at a late step of the ASC-dependent lineages, when multidendritic neurons arise as siblings of the external sense organ neurons and, at an early step, when other multidendritic neurons precursors arise as siblings of external sense organ precursors.

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