Morphogenesis of Drosophila melanogaster macrochaetes: cell fate determination for bristle organ

J Stem Cells. 2012;7(1):19-41.


Formation of specialized spatial structures comprising various cell types is most important in the ontogenesis of multicellular organisms. An example is the D. melanogaster bristle organs. Bristles (micro- and macrochaetes) are external sensory organs, elements of the peripheral nervous system, playing the role of mechanoreceptors. Their comparatively simple organization comprising only four specialized cells and a common origin of these cells make macrochaetes a convenient model for studying cell differentiation. The four cells forming bristle organ result from two successive divisions of a single cell, sensory organ precursor (SOP) cell. The number of macrochaetes on drosophila body corresponds to the number of SOP cells. The morphogenesis of macrochaetes comprises three stages, the first two determining a neural fate of the cells. The third stage is cell specialization into components of the bristle organ-neuron, thecogen, tormogen, and trichogen. Development of each bristle commences from segregation of proneural clusters, of 20-30 cells, from the massif of undifferentiated cells of the wing imaginal disc. At this stage, each cluster cell can potentially become a SOP cell. At the second stage, the only SOP cell and its position are determined within each cluster. Finally, two asymmetric divisions of the SOP cell with subsequent differentiation of the daughter cells gives the bristle organ. Several dozens genes are involved in the control of macrochaete morphogenesis. The main component of this system is the proneural genes of achaete-scute complex (AS-C). An increased content of proneural proteins fundamentally distinguished the cells that will follow the neural developmental pathway from the disc epidermal cells. A local AS-C expression, initiated at specified disc sites by specific transcription factors, determines the number and topology of proneural clusters. The expression of AS-C genes, continuing in the cells of the cluster, increases the difference in proneural protein content, first, between the cluster cells and then, between the cluster cells and the single SOP cell, where it reaches the maximum level. This process is provided by both the intracellular regulation of AS-C gene activity and intercellular events mediated via the EGFR and Notch signaling pathways. The third stage in macrochaete morphogenesis comprises two successive asymmetric SOP cell divisions, determining the final specialization. The selector genes, in particular, numb, neuralized, tramtrack, and musashi, play the key role in cell type specification. This review systematizes the data on molecular genetic system controlling drosophila bristle morphogenesis and proposes an integral scheme of its functioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Structures / anatomy & histology
  • Animal Structures / cytology*
  • Animal Structures / growth & development*
  • Animals
  • Asymmetric Cell Division / genetics
  • Cell Lineage* / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / anatomy & histology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / cytology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / growth & development*
  • Morphogenesis* / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / genetics