Temporal progression of Drosophila medulla neuroblasts generates the transcription factor combination to control T1 neuron morphogenesis

Vamsikrishna G. Naidu, Yu Zhang, Scott Lowe, Alokananda Ray, Hailun Zhu, Xin Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Proper neural function depends on the correct specification of individual neural fates, controlled by combinations of neuronal transcription factors. Different neural types are sequentially generated by neural progenitors in a defined order, and this temporal patterning process can be controlled by Temporal Transcription Factors (TTFs) that form temporal cascades in neural progenitors. The Drosophila medulla, part of the visual processing center of the brain, contains more than 70 neural types generated by medulla neuroblasts which sequentially express several TTFs, including Homothorax (Hth), eyeless (Ey), Sloppy paired 1 and 2 (Slp), Dichaete (D) and Tailless (Tll). However, it is not clear how such a small number of TTFs could give rise to diverse combinations of neuronal transcription factors that specify a large number of medulla neuron types. Here we report how temporal patterning specifies one neural type, the T1 neuron. We show that the T1 neuron is the only medulla neuron type that expresses the combination of three transcription factors Ocelliless (Oc or Otd), Sox102F and Ets65A. Using CRISPR-Cas9 system, we show that each transcription factor is required for the correct morphogenesis of T1 neurons. Interestingly, Oc, Sox102F and Ets65A initiate expression in neurons beginning at different temporal stages and last in a few subsequent temporal stages. Oc expressing neurons are generated in the Ey, Slp and D stages; Sox102F expressing neurons are produced in the Slp and D stages; while Ets65A is expressed in subsets of medulla neurons born in the D and later stages. The TTF Ey, Slp or D is required to initiate the expression of Oc, Sox102F or Ets65A in neurons, respectively. Thus, the neurons expressing all three transcription factors are born in the D stage and become T1 neurons. In neurons where the three transcription factors do not overlap, each of the three transcription factors can act in combination with other neuronal transcription factors to specify different neural fates. We show that this way of expression regulation of neuronal transcription factors by temporal patterning can generate more possible combinations of transcription factors in neural progeny to diversify neural fates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-44
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020


  • Neuroblasts
  • Neuronal differentiation
  • Neuronal morphogenesis
  • Temporal patterning
  • Temporal transcription factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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