Drosophila atonal fully rescues the phenotype of Math1 null mice: new functions evolve in new cellular contexts

Curr Biol. 2002 Sep 17;12(18):1611-6. doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(02)01144-2.


Many genes share sequence similarity between species, but their properties often change significantly during evolution. For example, the Drosophila genes engrailed and orthodenticle and the onychophoran gene Ultrabithorax only partially substitute for their mouse or Drosophila homologs. We have been analyzing the relationship between atonal (ato) in the fruit fly and its mouse homolog, Math1. In flies, ato acts as a proneural gene that governs the development of chordotonal organs (CHOs), which serve as stretch receptors in the body wall and joints and as auditory organs in the antennae. In the fly CNS, ato is important not for specification but for axonal arborization. Math1, in contrast, is required for the specification of cells in both the CNS and the PNS. Furthermore, Math1 serves a role in the development of secretory lineage cells in the gut, a function that does not parallel any known to be served by ato. We wondered whether ato and Math1 might be more functionally homologous than they appear, so we expressed Math1 in ato mutant flies and ato in Math1 null mice. To our surprise, the two proteins are functionally interchangeable.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics*
  • Drosophila Proteins / physiology*
  • Genes, Insect
  • Lac Operon
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Nervous System / embryology
  • Phenotype
  • Species Specificity
  • Transcription Factors / deficiency*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / physiology


  • Atoh1 protein, mouse
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • ato protein, Drosophila