Background: The Drosophila Toll pathway takes part in both establishment of the embryonic dorsoventral axis and induction of the innate immune response in adults. Upon activation by the cytokine Spätzle, Toll interacts with the adaptor proteins DmMyD88 and Tube and the kinase Pelle and triggers degradation of the inhibitor Cactus, thus allowing the nuclear translocation of the transcription factor Dorsal/Dif. weckle (wek) was previously identified as a new dorsal group gene that encodes a putative zinc finger transcription factor. However, its role in the Toll pathway was unknown.
Results: Here, we isolated new wek alleles and demonstrated that cactus is epistatic to wek, which in turn is epistatic to Toll. Consistent with this, Wek localizes to the plasma membrane of embryos, independently of Toll signaling. Wek homodimerizes and associates with Toll. Moreover, Wek binds to and localizes DmMyD88 to the plasma membrane. Thus, Wek acts as an adaptor to assemble/stabilize a Toll/Wek/DmMyD88/Tube complex. Remarkably, unlike the DmMyD88/tube/pelle/cactus gene cassette of the Toll pathway, wek plays a minimal role, if any, in the immune defense against Gram-positive bacteria and fungi.
Conclusions: We conclude that Wek is an adaptor to link Toll and DmMyD88 and is required for efficient recruitment of DmMyD88 to Toll. Unexpectedly, wek is dispensable for innate immune response, thus revealing differences in the Toll-mediated activation of Dorsal in the embryo and Dif in the fat body of adult flies.