Background: The choice of a stem cell to divide symmetrically or asymmetrically has profound consequences for development and disease. Unregulated symmetric division promotes tumor formation, whereas inappropriate asymmetric division affects organ morphogenesis. Despite its importance, little is known about how spindle positioning is regulated. In some tissues cell fate appears to dictate the type of cell division, whereas in other tissues it is thought that stochastic variation in spindle position dictates subsequent sibling cell fate.
Results: Here we investigate the relationship between neural progenitor identity and spindle positioning in the Drosophila optic lobe. We use molecular markers and live imaging to show that there are two populations of progenitors in the optic lobe: symmetrically dividing neuroepithelial cells and asymmetrically dividing neuroblasts. We use genetically marked single cell clones to show that neuroepithelial cells give rise to neuroblasts. To determine if a change in spindle orientation can trigger a neuroepithelial to neuroblast transition, we force neuroepithelial cells to divide along their apical/basal axis by misexpressing Inscuteable. We find that this does not induce neuroblasts, nor does it promote premature neuronal differentiation.
Conclusion: We show that symmetrically dividing neuroepithelial cells give rise to asymmetrically dividing neuroblasts in the optic lobe, and that regulation of spindle orientation and division symmetry is a consequence of cell type specification, rather than a mechanism for generating cell type diversity.