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The Abelson tyrosine kinase regulates Notch endocytosis and signaling to maintain neuronal cell fate in Drosophila photoreceptors
Wenjun Xiong, Santiago A. Morillo, Ilaria Rebay


The development of a functional organ requires coordinated programs of cell fate specification, terminal differentiation and morphogenesis. Whereas signaling mechanisms that specify individual cell fates are well documented, little is known about the pathways and molecules that maintain these fates stably as normal development proceeds or how their dysregulation may contribute to altered cell states in diseases such as cancer. In Drosophila, the tyrosine kinase Abelson (Abl) interfaces with multiple signaling pathways to direct epithelial and neuronal morphogenesis during embryonic and retinal development. Here we show that Abl is required for photoreceptor cell fate maintenance, as Abl mutant photoreceptors lose neuronal markers during late pupal stages but do not re-enter a proliferative state or undergo apoptosis. Failure to maintain the differentiated state correlates with impaired trafficking of the Notch receptor and ectopic Notch signaling, and can be suppressed by reducing the genetic dose of Notch or of its downstream transcriptional effector Suppressor of Hairless. Together, these data reveal a novel mechanism for maintaining the terminally differentiated state of Drosophila photoreceptors and suggest that neuronal fates in the fly retina retain plasticity late into development. Given the general evolutionary conservation of developmental signaling mechanisms, Abl-mediated regulation of Notch could be broadly relevant to cell fate maintenance and reprogramming during normal development, regeneration and oncogenic transformation.

  • Accepted September 27, 2012.
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