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Dev Biol. 2013 Aug 1;380(1):111-24. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2013.03.011. Epub 2013 Mar 20.

Polycomb silencing of the Drosophila 4E-BP gene regulates imaginal disc cell growth.

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Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, School of Medicine, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.


Polycomb group (PcG) proteins are best known for their role in maintaining stable, mitotically heritable silencing of the homeotic (HOX) genes during development. In addition to loss of homeotic gene silencing, some PcG mutants also have small imaginal discs. These include mutations in E(z), Su(z)12, esc and escl, which encode Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) subunits. The cause of this phenotype is not known, but the human homologs of PRC2 subunits have been shown to play a role in cell proliferation, are over-expressed in many tumors, and appear to be required for tumor proliferation. Here we show that the small imaginal disc phenotype arises, at least in part, from a cell growth defect. In homozygous E(z) mutants, imaginal disc cells are smaller than cells in normally proliferating discs. We show that the Thor gene, which encodes eIF4E-binding protein (4E-BP), the evolutionarily conserved inhibitor of cap-dependent translation and potent inhibitor of cell growth, is involved in the development of this phenotype. The Thor promoter region contains DNA binding motifs for transcription factors found in well-characterized Polycomb response elements (PREs), including PHO/PHOL, GAGA factor, and others, suggesting that Thor may be a direct target of Polycomb silencing. We present chromatin immunoprecipitation evidence that PcG proteins are bound to the Thor 5' region in vivo. The Thor gene is normally repressed in imaginal discs, but Thor mRNA and 4E-BP protein levels are elevated in imaginal discs of PRC2 subunit mutant larvae. Deletion of the Thor gene in E(z) mutants partially restores imaginal disc size toward wild-type and results in an increase in the fraction of larvae that pupariate. These results thus suggest that PcG proteins can directly modulate cell growth in Drosophila, in part by regulating Thor expression.

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