During development of the Drosophila nerve cord, neuroblast 7–3 gives rise to a pair of mitotic sister serotonin neurons in each hemisegment. Here we show that the zinc finger gene eagle, which is expressed in neuroblast 7–3, is essential for specifying the fate of serotonin neurons. We find that loss-of-function eagle mutations produce an unusual differential phenotype with respect to the sister serotonin cells and that eagle is necessary for the maintenance of engrailed and zfh-2 expression in the serotonin neurons. We present a model that uniquely identifies all progeny neurons in the neuroblast 7–3 lineage based on the expression of specific molecular markers, position within the nerve cord and the effect of eagle loss-of-function mutations. Although serotonin is an important neurotransmitter conserved throughout the animal kingdom, we show that hypomorphic alleles of eagle can produce viable adults that have a dramatic reduction in the number of serotonin-producing neurons.

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