Adult Drosophila possess a large number of sensory organs, including large and small bristles and other types of sensilla, each arising from a single mother cell at particular positions in a reproducible pattern. Genetic studies have shown that sensory organ pattern formation is partly coordinated by a number of structurally similar, potential heterodimer-forming, helix-loop-helix (HLH) regulatory proteins. Here, by localizing regulatory gene expression during the development of normal and mutant imaginai discs, we show that two positive regulators of sensory neurogenesis, the proneural achaete and scute proteins, initially trans-activate each other and are transiently expressed in identical patterns, including clusters of wing ectodermal cells and the individual sensory mother cells that arise from them. Two negative regulators, hairy and extramacrochaete, suppress sensory neurogenesis by selectively repressing achaete and scute gene expression, respectively, but in different spatial domains and at different developmental stages. Surprisingly, we also find that the level of achaete-scute activity influences the level of hairy expression, thereby providing feedback control upon achaete-scute activity and sensory organ formation. Some or all of these interactions may involve specific dimerization reactions between different combinations of HLH proteins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)984-995
Number of pages12
JournalGenes and Development
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1991


  • Drosophila
  • HLH proteins
  • Imaginai discs
  • Morphogenesis
  • Neurogenesis
  • Pattern formation


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