Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Ultrabithorax confers spatial identity in a context-specific manner in the Drosophila postembryonic ventral nervous system

Elizabeth C Marin123*, Katie E Dry1, Danielle R Alaimo2, Kirstin T Rudd2, Anthony R Cillo3, Michael E Clenshaw1, Nicolas Negre4, Kevin P White4 and James W Truman5

Author Affiliations

1 Biology Department, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, USA

2 Neuroscience Program, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, USA

3 Cell Biology/Biochemistry Program, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, USA

4 Institute for Genomics & Systems Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

5 Janelia Farm Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, VA, USA

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Neural Development 2012, 7:31  doi:10.1186/1749-8104-7-31

Published: 11 September 2012



In holometabolous insects such as Drosophila melanogaster, neuroblasts produce an initial population of diverse neurons during embryogenesis and a much larger set of adult-specific neurons during larval life. In the ventral CNS, many of these secondary neuronal lineages differ significantly from one body segment to another, suggesting a role for anteroposterior patterning genes.


Here we systematically characterize the expression pattern and function of the Hox gene Ultrabithorax (Ubx) in all 25 postembryonic lineages. We find that Ubx is expressed in a segment-, lineage-, and hemilineage-specific manner in the thoracic and anterior abdominal segments. When Ubx is removed from neuroblasts via mitotic recombination, neurons in these segments exhibit the morphologies and survival patterns of their anterior thoracic counterparts. Conversely, when Ubx is ectopically expressed in anterior thoracic segments, neurons exhibit complementary posterior transformation phenotypes.


Our findings demonstrate that Ubx plays a critical role in conferring segment-appropriate morphology and survival on individual neurons in the adult-specific ventral CNS. Moreover, while always conferring spatial identity in some sense, Ubx has been co-opted during evolution for distinct and even opposite functions in different neuronal hemilineages.

Hox; Programmed cell death; CNS; Neuroblast lineages