Background: The let-7 and lin-4 microRNAs belong to a class of temporally expressed, noncoding regulatory RNAs that function as heterochronic switch genes in the nematode C. elegans. Heterochronic genes control the relative timing of events during development and are considered a major force in the rapid evolution of new morphologies. let-7 is highly conserved and in Drosophila is temporally coregulated with the lin-4 homolog, miR-125. Little is known, however, about their requirement outside the nematode or whether they universally control the timing of developmental processes.
Results: We report the generation of a Drosophila mutant that lacks let-7 and miR-125 activities and that leads to a pleiotropic phenotype arising during metamorphosis. We focus on two defects and demonstrate that loss of let-7 and miR-125 results in temporal delays in two distinct metamorphic processes: the terminal cell-cycle exit in the wing and maturation of neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) at adult abdominal muscles. We identify the abrupt (ab) gene, encoding a nuclear protein, as a bona fide let-7 target and provide evidence that let-7 governs the maturation rate of abdominal NMJs during metamorphosis by regulating ab expression.
Conclusions: Drosophila Iet-7 and miR-125 mutants exhibit temporal misregulation of specific metamorphic processes. As in C. elegans, Drosophila let-7 is both necessary and sufficient for the appropriate timing of a specific cell-cycle exit, indicating that its function as a heterochronic microRNA is conserved. The ab gene is a target of let-7, and its repression in muscle is essential for the timing of NMJ maturation during metamorphosis. Our results suggest that let-7 and miR-125 serve as conserved regulators of events necessary for the transition from juvenile to adult life stages.