A combinatorial code of transcription factors specifies subtypes of visual motion-sensing neurons in Drosophila

Development. 2020 May 13;147(9):dev186296. doi: 10.1242/dev.186296.


Direction-selective T4/T5 neurons exist in four subtypes, each tuned to visual motion along one of the four cardinal directions. Along with their directional tuning, neurons of each T4/T5 subtype orient their dendrites and project their axons in a subtype-specific manner. Directional tuning, thus, appears strictly linked to morphology in T4/T5 neurons. How the four T4/T5 subtypes acquire their distinct morphologies during development remains largely unknown. Here, we investigated when and how the dendrites of the four T4/T5 subtypes acquire their specific orientations, and profiled the transcriptomes of all T4/T5 neurons during this process. This revealed a simple and stable combinatorial code of transcription factors defining the four T4/T5 subtypes during their development. Changing the combination of transcription factors of specific T4/T5 subtypes resulted in predictable and complete conversions of subtype-specific properties, i.e. dendrite orientation and matching axon projection pattern. Therefore, a combinatorial code of transcription factors coordinates the development of dendrite and axon morphologies to generate anatomical specializations that differentiate subtypes of T4/T5 motion-sensing neurons.

Keywords: Combinatorial code; Dendrite development; Drosophila; Grain; Motion vision; Neuronal subtypes.