Here, we describe one of the major maternal regulatory gradients, Dorsal, and threshold outputs of gene expression that result from the graded distribution of this transcription factor. The analysis of a large number of authentic and synthetic target genes suggests that the Dorsal gradient directly specifies at least four, and possibly as many as seven, different thresholds of gene activity and tissue differentiation. These thresholds initiate the differentiation of the three primary embryonic tissues: the mesoderm, neurogenic ectoderm, and dorsal ectoderm. Moreover, primary readouts of the Dorsal gradient create asymmetries that subdivide each tissue into multiple cell types during gastrulation. Dorsal patterning thresholds represent the culmination of one of the most complete gene regulation network known in development, which begins with the asymmetric positioning of the oocyte nucleus within the egg chamber and leads to the localized activation of the Toll-Dorsal signaling pathway in ventral regions of the early embryo.
(c) 2002 Elsevier Science (USA).