Background: The final shape and size of an organism is determined by both morphogenetic processes and cell proliferation and it is essential that these processes be properly coordinated. In particular, cell division is incompatible with certain types of morphogenetic cell behaviour, such as migration, adhesion and changes in cell shape. Mechanisms must therefore exist to ensure that one does not interfere with the other.
Results: We address here the coordination of proliferation and morphogenesis during the development of the mesoderm in Drosophila. We show that it is essential that mitosis be blocked in the mesoderm during early gastrulation, and identify the putative serine/threonine kinase Tribbles as controlling this block. In its absence, the mitotic block is lifted, resulting in severe defects during early gastrulation. Tribbles, a homologue of a group of vertebrate proteins of unknown function, acts in concert with another, as yet unidentified, factor to counteract the activity of the protein phosphatase Cdc25/String.
Conclusions: In a finely tuned balance with Cdc25/String, Tribbles controls the timing of mitosis in the prospective mesoderm, allowing cell-shape changes to be completed. This mechanism for coordinating cell division and cell-shape changes may have helped Drosophila to evolve its mode of rapid early development.