Acquisition of distinct neuronal identities during development is critical for the assembly of diverse functional neural circuits in the brain. In both vertebrates and invertebrates, intrinsic determinants are thought to act in neural progenitors to specify their identity and the identity of their neuronal progeny. However, the extent to which individual factors can contribute to this is poorly understood. We investigate the role of orthodenticle in the specification of an identified neuroblast (neuronal progenitor) lineage in the Drosophila brain. Loss of orthodenticle from this neuroblast affects molecular properties, neuroanatomical features, and functional inputs of progeny neurons, such that an entire central complex lineage transforms into a functional olfactory projection neuron lineage. This ability to change functional macrocircuitry of the brain through changes in gene expression in a single neuroblast reveals a surprising capacity for novel circuit formation in the brain and provides a paradigm for large-scale evolutionary modification of circuitry.
Keywords: D. melanogaster; central complex; developmental biology; functional imaging; neuroblast lineage; neuroscience; olfactory projection neurons; orthodenticle; stem cells.