Background: During animal development, cells need to make spatially and temporally regulated fate decisions. These decisions are largely controlled by intercellular signalling, often through receptor tyrosine kinases. One of these, the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), regulates multiple cell fate decisions. Its importance in the recruitment of photoreceptors in the developing fly eye, a useful model for neural development, has already been reported. Other EGFR functions in the eye have not been characterised.
Results: We have examined the consequences of removing or activating the EGFR at different stages of eye development. The earliest stages of assembly occurred normally within EGFR- clones--the morphogenetic furrow was unimpeded and the R8 photoreceptor was specified. All subsequent photoreceptor recruitment was blocked. EGFR- clones had a characteristic shape indicating that they had undergone substantial cell death posterior to the furrow, where the differentiation program is normally activated; consistent with this, excess apoptosis was detected. We found that the receptor also regulates cell proliferation in the disc, has an early function at the disc margin (where the morphogenetic furrow initiates) and contributes to the regulation of spacing of the R8 precursors. Finally, we found that activation of the receptor is sufficient to trigger non-R8 photoreceptor development, even in cells in front of the furrow or in the absence of the proneural gene atonal.
Conclusion: At least five distinct functions of EGFR signalling need to be integrated during fly eye development. These include roles in cell proliferation, survival and differentiation.