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Curr Top Dev Biol. 1998;38:35-80.

Drosophila myogenesis and insights into the role of nautilus.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park 16802, USA.


Several aspects of muscle development appear to be conserved between Drosophila and vertebrate organisms. Among these is the conservation of genes that are critical to the myogenic process, including transcription factors such as nautilus. From a simplistic point of view, Drosophila therefore seems to be a useful organism for the identification of molecules that are essential for myogenesis in both Drosophila and in other species. nautilus, the focal point of this review, appears to be involved in the specification and/or differentiation of a specific subset of muscle founder cells. As with several of its vertebrate and invertebrate counterparts, it is capable of inducing a myogenic program of differentiation reminiscent of that of somatic muscle precursors when expressed in other cell types. We therefore favor the model that nautilus implements the specific differentiation program of these founder cells, rather than their specification. Further analyses are necessary to establish the validity of this working hypothesis. Studies have revealed a critical role for Pax-3 in specifying a particular subset of myogenic cells, the progenitors of the limb muscles. These myogenic cells migrate from the somite into the periphery of the organism, where they differentiate. These myoblasts do not express MyoD or myf5 until they have arrived at their destination and begin the morphologic process of myogenesis (Bober et al., 1994; Goulding et al., 1994; Williams and Ordahl, 1994). They then begin to express these genes, possibly to put the myogenic plan into action. Thus, as with nautilus, MyoD and myf5 may be necessary for the manifestation of a muscle-specific commitment that has already occurred. By comparison with vertebrates, it was anticipated that the single Drosophila gene would serve the purpose of all four vertebrate genes. However, its restricted pattern of expression and apparent loss-of-function phenotype are inconsistent with this expectation. It remains to be determined whether nautilus functions in a manner similar to just one of the vertebrate genes. Since the myf5- and MyoD-expressing myoblasts are proliferative, the loss of one cell type appears to be compensated by proliferation of the remaining cell type. This apparent plasticity may obscure differences in mutant phenotype resulting from the loss of particular cells that express each of these genes. In Drosophila, by comparison, nautilus-expressing cells committed to the myogenic program undergo few, if any, additional cell divisions, and thus no other cells are available to compensate for the loss of nautilus. Therefore, the apparent differences between the Drosophila nautilus gene and its vertebrate counterparts may reflect, at least in part, differences in the developmental systems rather than differences in the function of the genes themselves.

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