A common consequence of Notch signalling in Drosophila is the transcriptional activation of seven Enhancer of split [E(spl)] genes, which encode a family of closely related basic-helix-loop-helix transcriptional repressors. Different E(spl) proteins can functionally substitute for each other, hampering loss-of-function genetic analysis and raising the question of whether any specialization exists within the family. We expressed each individual E(spl) gene using the GAL4-UAS system in order to analyse their effect in a number of cell fate decisions taking place in the wing imaginal disk. We focussed on sensory organ precursor determination, wing vein determination and wing pattern formation. All of the E(spl) proteins affect the first two processes in the same way, namely they antagonize neural precursor and vein fates. Yet, the efficacy of this antagonism is quite distinct: E(spl)mbeta has the strongest vein suppression effect, whereas E(spl)m8 and E(spl)m7 are the most active bristle suppressors. During wing patterning, Notch activity orchestrates a complex sequence of events that define the dorsoventral boundary of the wing. We have discerned two phases within this process based on the sensitivity of N loss-of-function phenotypes to concomitant expression of E(spl) genes. E(spl) proteins are initially involved in repression of the vg quadrant enhancer, whereas later they appear to relay the Notch signal that triggers activation of cut expression. Of the seven proteins, E(spl)mgamma is most active in both of these processes. In conclusion, E(spl) proteins have partially redundant functions, yet they have evolved distinct preferences in implementing different cell fate decisions, which closely match their individual normal expression patterns.

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