Background: During the development of the Drosophila central nervous system the process of midline crossing is orchestrated by a number of guidance receptors and ligands. Many key axon guidance molecules have been identified in both invertebrates and vertebrates, but the transcriptional regulation of growth cone guidance remains largely unknown. It is established that translational regulation plays a role in midline crossing, and there are indications that transcriptional regulation is also involved. To investigate this issue, we conducted a genome-wide study of transcription in Drosophila embryos using wild type and a number of well-characterized Drosophila guidance mutants and transgenics. We also analyzed a previously published microarray time course of Drosophila embryonic development with an axon guidance focus.
Results: Using hopach, a novel clustering method which is well suited to microarray data analysis, we identified groups of genes with similar expression patterns across guidance mutants and transgenics. We then systematically characterized the resulting clusters with respect to their relevance to axon guidance using two complementary controlled vocabularies: the Gene Ontology (GO) and anatomical annotations of the Atlas of Pattern of Gene Expression (APoGE) in situ hybridization database. The analysis indicates that regulation of gene expression does play a role in the process of axon guidance in Drosophila. We also find a strong link between axon guidance and hemocyte migration, a result that agrees with mounting evidence that axon guidance molecules are co-opted in vertebrate vascularization. Cell cyclin activity in the context of axon guidance is also suggested from our array data. RNA and protein expression patterns of cell cyclins in axon guidance mutants and transgenics support this possible link.
Conclusion: This study provides important insights into the regulation of axon guidance in vivo.