split ends (spen) encodes nuclear 600 kDa proteins that contain RNA recognition motifs and a conserved C-terminal sequence. These features define a new protein family, Spen, which includes the vertebrate MINT transcriptional regulator. Zygotic spen mutants affect the growth and guidance of a subset of axons in the Drosophila embryo. Removing maternal and zygotic protein elicits cell-fate and more general axon-guidance defects that are not seen in zygotic mutants. The wrong number of chordotonal neurons and midline cells are generated, and we identify defects in precursor formation and EGF receptor-dependent inductive processes required for cell-fate specification. The number of neuronal precursors is variable in embryos that lack Spen. The levels of Suppressor of Hairless, a key transcriptional effector of Notch required for precursor formation, are reduced, as are the nuclear levels of Yan, a transcriptional repressor that regulates cell fate and proliferation downstream of the EGF receptor. We propose that Spen proteins regulate the expression of key effectors of signaling pathways required to specify neuronal cell fate and morphology.
The mushroom bodies (MBs) are prominent structures in the Drosophila brain that are essential for olfactory learning and memory. Characterization of the development and projection patterns of individual MB neurons will be important for elucidating their functions. Using mosaic analysis with a repressible cell marker (Lee, T. and Luo, L. (1999) Neuron 22, 451–461), we have positively marked the axons and dendrites of multicellular and single-cell mushroom body clones at specific developmental stages. Systematic clonal analysis demonstrates that a single mushroom body neuroblast sequentially generates at least three types of morphologically distinct neurons. Neurons projecting into the (gamma) lobe of the adult MB are born first, prior to the mid-3rd instar larval stage. Neurons projecting into the alpha' and beta' lobes are born between the mid-3rd instar larval stage and puparium formation. Finally, neurons projecting into the alpha and beta lobes are born after puparium formation. Visualization of individual MB neurons has also revealed how different neurons acquire their characteristic axon projections. During the larval stage, axons of all MB neurons bifurcate into both the dorsal and medial lobes. Shortly after puparium formation, larval MB neurons are selectively pruned according to birthdays. Degeneration of axon branches makes early-born gamma neurons retain only their main processes in the peduncle, which then project into the adult gamma lobe without bifurcation. In contrast, the basic axon projections of the later-born (alpha'/beta') larval neurons are preserved during metamorphosis. This study illustrates the cellular organization of mushroom bodies and the development of different MB neurons at the single cell level. It allows for future studies on the molecular mechanisms of mushroom body development.