During neurogenesis in the medulla of the Drosophila optic lobe, neuroepithelial cells are programmed to differentiate into neuroblasts at the medial edge of the developing optic lobe. The wave of differentiation progresses synchronously in a row of cells from medial to the lateral regions of the optic lobe, sweeping across the entire neuroepithelial sheet; it is preceded by the transient expression of the proneural gene lethal of scute [l(1)sc] and is thus called the proneural wave. We found that the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling pathway promotes proneural wave progression. EGFR signaling is activated in neuroepithelial cells and induces l(1)sc expression. EGFR activation is regulated by transient expression of Rhomboid (Rho), which is required for the maturation of the EGF ligand Spitz. Rho expression is also regulated by the EGFR signal. The transient and spatially restricted expression of Rho generates sequential activation of EGFR signaling and assures the directional progression of the differentiation wave. This study also provides new insights into the role of Notch signaling. Expression of the Notch ligand Delta is induced by EGFR, and Notch signaling prolongs the proneural state. Notch signaling activity is downregulated by its own feedback mechanism that permits cells at proneural states to subsequently develop into neuroblasts. Thus, coordinated sequential action of the EGFR and Notch signaling pathways causes the proneural wave to progress and induce neuroblast formation in a precisely ordered manner.
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