Dynamic rewiring of the Drosophila retinal determination network switches its function from selector to differentiation

PLoS Genet. 2013 Aug;9(8):e1003731. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003731. Epub 2013 Aug 29.


Organ development is directed by selector gene networks. Eye development in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is driven by the highly conserved selector gene network referred to as the "retinal determination gene network," composed of approximately 20 factors, whose core comprises twin of eyeless (toy), eyeless (ey), sine oculis (so), dachshund (dac), and eyes absent (eya). These genes encode transcriptional regulators that are each necessary for normal eye development, and sufficient to direct ectopic eye development when misexpressed. While it is well documented that the downstream genes so, eya, and dac are necessary not only during early growth and determination stages but also during the differentiation phase of retinal development, it remains unknown how the retinal determination gene network terminates its functions in determination and begins to promote differentiation. Here, we identify a switch in the regulation of ey by the downstream retinal determination genes, which is essential for the transition from determination to differentiation. We found that central to the transition is a switch from positive regulation of ey transcription to negative regulation and that both types of regulation require so. Our results suggest a model in which the retinal determination gene network is rewired to end the growth and determination stage of eye development and trigger terminal differentiation. We conclude that changes in the regulatory relationships among members of the retinal determination gene network are a driving force for key transitions in retinal development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics*
  • Conserved Sequence
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / growth & development*
  • Eye / growth & development*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Organogenesis / genetics*
  • Retina / growth & development*
  • Retinaldehyde


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Retinaldehyde