Background: Mesoderm migration in the Drosophila gastrula depends on the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) receptor Heartless (Htl). During gastrulation Htl is required for adhesive interactions of the mesoderm with the ectoderm and for the generation of protrusive activity of the mesoderm cells during migration. After gastrulation Htl is essential for the differentiation of dorsal mesodermal derivatives. It is not known how Htl is activated, because its ligand has not yet been identified.
Results: We performed a genome-wide genetic screen for early zygotic genes and identified seven genomic regions that are required for normal migration of the mesoderm cells during gastrulation. One of these genomic intervals produces upon its deletion a phenocopy of the htl cell migration phenotype. Here we present the genetic and molecular mapping of this genomic region. We identified two genes, FGF8-like1 and FGF8-like2, that encode novel FGF homologs and were only partially annotated in the Drosophila genome. We show that FGF8-like1 and FGF8-like2 are expressed in the neuroectoderm during gastrulation and present evidence that both act in concert to direct cell shape changes during mesodermal cell migration and are required for the activation of the Htl signaling cascade during gastrulation.
Conclusions: We conclude that FGF8-like1 and FGF8-like2 encode two novel Drosophila FGF homologs, which are required for mesodermal cell migration during gastrulation. Our results suggest that FGF8-like1 and FGF8-like2 represent ligands of the Htl FGF receptor.