Conditional knockout of retinal determination genes in differentiating cells in Drosophila

FEBS J. 2016 Aug;283(15):2754-66. doi: 10.1111/febs.13772. Epub 2016 Jun 23.


Conditional gene knockout in postmitotic cells is a valuable technique which allows the study of gene function with spatiotemporal control. Surprisingly, in contrast to its long-term and extensive use in mouse studies, this technology is lacking in Drosophila. Here, we use a novel method for generating complete loss of eyes absent (eya) or sine oculis (so) function in postmitotic cells posterior to the morphogenetic furrow (MF). Specifically, genomic rescue constructs with flippase recognition target (FRT) sequences flanking essential exons are used to generate conditional null alleles. By removing gene function in differentiating cells, we show that eya and so are dispensable for larval photoreceptor differentiation, but are required for differentiation during pupal development. Both eya and so are necessary for photoreceptor survival and the apoptosis caused by loss of eya or so function is likely a secondary consequence of inappropriate differentiation. We also confirm their requirement for cone cell development and reveal a novel role in interommatidial bristle (IOB) formation. In addition, so is required for normal eye disc morphology. This is the first report of a knockout method to study eya and so function in postmitotic cells. This technology will open the door to a large array of new functional studies in virtually any tissue and at any stage of development or in adults.

Keywords: Drosophila; conditional gene knockout; eye development; eyes absent; sine oculis.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Drosophila / cytology
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Drosophila / growth & development*
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins / physiology*
  • Eye / anatomy & histology
  • Eye / growth & development
  • Eye / ultrastructure
  • Eye Proteins / genetics
  • Eye Proteins / physiology*
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / physiology*
  • Larva / cytology
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Invertebrate / cytology*
  • Retina / growth & development


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Eye Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • So protein, Drosophila
  • eya protein, Drosophila