Enhancer of trithorax/polycomb, Corto, regulates timing of hunchback gene relocation and competence in Drosophila neuroblasts

Hafer, Terry L.; Patra, Sofiya; Tagami, Daiki; Kohwi, Minoree

Neural progenitors produce diverse cells in a stereotyped birth order, but can specify each cell type for only a limited duration. In the Drosophila embryo, neuroblasts (neural progenitors) specify multiple, distinct neurons by sequentially expressing a series of temporal identity transcription factors with each division. Hunchback (Hb), the first of the series, specifies early-born neuronal identity. Neuroblast competence to generate early-born neurons is terminated when the hb gene relocates to the neuroblast nuclear lamina, rendering it refractory to activation in descendent neurons. Mechanisms and trans-acting factors underlying this process are poorly understood. Here we identify Corto, an enhancer of Trithorax/Polycomb (ETP) protein, as a new regulator of neuroblast competence.

We used the GAL4/UAS system to drive persistent misexpression of Hb in neuroblast 7–1 (NB7-1), a model lineage for which the early competence window has been well characterized, to examine the role of Corto in neuroblast competence. We used immuno-DNA Fluorescence in situ hybridization (DNA FISH) in whole embryos to track the position of the hb gene locus specifically in neuroblasts across developmental time, comparing corto mutants to control embryos. Finally, we used immunostaining in whole embryos to examine Corto’s role in repression of Hb and a known target gene, Abdominal B (Abd-B).

We found that in corto mutants, the hb gene relocation to the neuroblast nuclear lamina is delayed and the early competence window is extended. The delay in gene relocation occurs after hb transcription is already terminated in the neuroblast and is not due to prolonged transcriptional activity. Further, we find that Corto genetically interacts with Posterior Sex Combs (Psc), a core subunit of polycomb group complex 1 (PRC1), to terminate early competence. Loss of Corto does not result in derepression of Hb or its Hox target, Abd-B, specifically in neuroblasts.

These results show that in neuroblasts, Corto genetically interacts with PRC1 to regulate timing of nuclear architecture reorganization and support the model that distinct mechanisms of silencing are implemented in a step-wise fashion during development to regulate cell fate gene expression in neuronal progeny.


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Neural Development

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December 20, 2022


Neuroblast competence, Temporal identity, Hunchback, Corto, Polycomb, Nuclear lamina, Nuclear architecture