The Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) signaling pathway plays a critical role in regulating tissue patterning. Drosophila EGFR signaling achieves specificity through multiple ligands and feedback loops to finetune signaling outcomes spatiotemporally. The principal Drosophila EGF ligand, cleaved Spitz, and the negative feedback regulator, Argos are diffusible and can act both in a cell autonomous and non-autonomous manner. The expression dose of Spitz and Argos early in photoreceptor cell fate determination has been shown to be critical in patterning the Drosophila eye, but the exact identity of the cells expressing these genes in the larval eye disc has been elusive. Using single molecule RNA Fluorescence in situ Hybridization (smFISH), we reveal an intriguing differential expression of spitz and argos mRNA in the Drosophila third instar eye imaginal disc indicative of directional non-autonomous EGFR signaling. By genetically tuning EGFR signaling, we show that rather than absolute levels of expression, the ratio of expression of spitz-to-argos to be a critical determinant of the final adult eye phenotype. Proximate effects on EGFR signaling in terms of cell cycle and differentiation markers are affected differently in the different perturbations. Proper ommatidial patterning is robust to thresholds around a tightly maintained wildtype spitz-to-argos ratio, and breaks down beyond. This provides a powerful instance of developmental buffering against gene expression fluctuations.
Copyright: © 2023 Pasnuri et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.