Little is known about the genetic program that generates synaptic specificity. Here we show that a putative transcription factor, Teyrha-Meyhra (Tey), controls target specificity, in part by repressing the expression of a repulsive cue, Toll. We focused on two neighboring muscles, M12 and M13, which are innervated by distinct motoneurons in Drosophila. We found that Toll, which encodes a transmembrane protein with leucine-rich repeats, was preferentially expressed in M13. In Toll mutants, motoneurons that normally innervate M12 (MN12s) formed smaller synapses on M12 and instead appeared to form ectopic nerve endings on M13. Conversely, ectopic expression of Toll in M12 inhibited synapse formation by MN12s. These results suggest that Toll functions in M13 to prevent synapse formation by MN12s. We identified Tey as a negative regulator of Toll expression in M12. In tey mutants, Toll was strongly upregulated in M12. Accordingly, synapse formation on M12 was inhibited. Conversely, ectopic expression of tey in M13 decreased the amount of Toll expression in M13 and changed the pattern of motor innervation to the one seen in Toll mutants. These results suggest that Tey determines target specificity by repressing the expression of Toll. These results reveal a mechanism for generating synaptic specificity that relies on the negative regulation of a repulsive target cue.
- Accepted April 25, 2010.