The secretory tubes of the Drosophila salivary glands are formed by the regulated, sequential internalization of the primordia. Secretory cell invagination occurs by a change in cell shape that includes basal nuclear migration and apical membrane constriction. In embryos mutant for fork head (fkh), which encodes a transcription factor homologous to mammalian hepatocyte nuclear factor 3beta (HNF-3beta), the secretory primordia are not internalized and secretory tubes do not form. Here, we show that secretory cells of fkh mutant embryos undergo extensive apoptotic cell death following the elevated expression of the apoptotic activator genes, reaper and head involution defective. We rescue the secretory cell death in the fkh mutants and show that the rescued cells still do not invaginate. The rescued fkh secretory cells undergo basal nuclear migration in the same spatial and temporal pattern as in wild-type secretory cells, but do not constrict their apical surface membranes. Our findings suggest at least two roles for fkh in formation of the embryonic salivary glands: an early role in promoting survival of the secretory cells, and a later role in secretory cell invagination, specifically in the constriction of the apical surface membrane.

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