During gastrulation, the Drosophila mesoderm invaginates and forms a single cell layer in close juxtaposition to the overlying ectoderm. Subsequently, particular cell types within the mesoderm are specified along the anteroposterior and dorsoventral axes. The exact developmental pathways that guide the specification of different cell types within the mesoderm are not well understood. We have analyzed the developmental relationship between two mesodermal tissues in the Drosophila embryo, the gonadal mesoderm and the fat body. Both tissues arise from lateral mesoderm within the eve domain. Whereas in the eve domain of parasegments 10–12 gonadal mesoderm develops from dorsolateral mesoderm and fat body from ventrolateral mesoderm, in parasegments 4–9 only fat body is specified. Our results demonstrate that the cell fate decision between gonadal mesoderm and fat body identity within dorsolateral mesoderm along the anteroposterior axis is determined by the combined actions of genes including abdA, AbdB and srp; while srp promotes fat body development, abdA allows gonadal mesoderm to develop by repressing srp function. Furthermore, we present evidence from genetic analysis suggesting that, before stage 10 of embryogenesis, gonadal mesoderm and the fat body have not yet been specified as different cell types, but exist as a common pool of precursor cells requiring the functions of the tin, zfh-1 and cli genes for their development.
In Drosophila as well as many vertebrate systems, germ cells form extraembryonically and migrate into the embryo before navigating toward gonadal mesodermal cells. How the gonadal mesoderm attracts migratory germ cells is not understood in any system. We have taken a genetic approach to identify genes required for germ cell migration in Drosophila. Here we describe the role of zfh-1 in germ cell migration to the gonadal mesoderm. In zfh-1 mutant embryos, the initial association of germ cells and gonadal mesoderm is blocked. Loss of zfh-1 activity disrupts the development of two distinct mesodermal populations: the caudal visceral mesoderm and the gonadal mesoderm. We demonstrate that the caudal visceral mesoderm facilitates the migration of germ cells from the endoderm to the mesoderm. Zfh-1 is also expressed in the gonadal mesoderm throughout the development of this tissue. Ectopic expression of Zfh-1 is sufficient to induce additional gonadal mesodermal cells and to alter the temporal course of gene expression within these cells. Finally, through analysis of a tinman zfh-1 double mutant, we show that zfh-1 acts in conjunction with tinman, another homeodomain protein, in the specification of lateral mesodermal derivatives, including the gonadal mesoderm.
Gonadogenesis in the Drosophila embryo is a complex process involving numerous cellular migratory steps and cell-cell interactions. The mechanisms guiding germ cells to move through, recognize and adhere to specific cell types are poorly understood. In order to identify genes that are required for these processes, we have conducted an extensive mutagenesis of the third chromosome and screened for mutations disrupting germ cell migration at any point in embryonic development. Phenotypic analysis of these mutants demonstrates that germ cell migration can be broken down into discrete developmental steps, with each step requiring a specific set of genes. Many of these genes are involved in the development of gonadal mesoderm, the tissue that associates with germ cells to form the embryonic gonad. Moreover, mutations that we isolated affecting embryonic patterning as well as germ cell migration suggest that the origin of gonadal mesoderm lies within the eve domain of the developing mesoderm.