The anterior-posterior axis of Drosophila is established before fertilisation when the oocyte becomes polarised to direct the localisation of bicoid and oskar mRNAs to opposite poles of the egg. Here we review recent results that reveal that the oocyte acquires polarity much earlier than previously thought, at the time when it acquires its fate. The oocyte arises from a 16-cell germline cyst, and its selection and the initial cue for its polarisation are controlled by the asymmetric segregation of a germline specific organelle called the fusome. Several different downstream pathways then interpret this asymmetry to restrict distinct aspects of oocyte identity to this cell. Mutations in any of the six conserved Par proteins disrupt the early polarisation of the oocyte and lead to a failure to maintain its identity. Surprisingly, mutations affecting the control of the mitotic or meiotic cell cycle also lead to a failure to maintain the oocyte fate, indicating crosstalk between the nuclear and cytoplasmic events of oocyte differentiation. The early polarity of the oocyte initiates a series of reciprocal signaling events between the oocyte and the somatic follicle cells that leads to a reversal of oocyte polarity later in oogenesis, which defines the anterior-posterior axis of the embryo.
Copyright 2004 Elsevier Ltd.