Intracellular message localisation in Drosophila melanogaster
The blastoderm embryo of Drosophila melanogaster consists of a unicellular syncytium with a large number of peripheral nuclei. The cytoplasm surrounding each peripheral nucleus is compartmentalised into apical periplasm above each nucleus and basal periplasm below it. The expression of different genes in the syncytial blastoderm is crucial for the genetic control of development. The pair-rule genes are involved in controlling the pattern of metamerisation of the embryo. Pair-rule mRNAs are expressed in alternate metameres, in a pattern of stripes. Within each stripe, mRNA is found in the apical periplasm of the syncytial blastoderm. By analysing the distribution of mRNA of a number of hybrid constructs, I show that the 3' untranslated part of three pair-rule genes are required for the apical localisation of their transcripts. A 1.2kb region in the 3' end of fushi tarazu (ftz), a 700bp region in the 3' end of hairy (h) and a 160bp fragment of the 3' untranslated part of the even-skipped (eve) pair-rule gene are shown to contain apical localisation signals. I show that the mechanism of apical localisation is unlikely to involve a cytoplasmic process and that the 3' untranslated part of the bicoid (bed) gene contains sequences necessary for apical localisation. I propose that apical localisation involves a nuclear mechanism which exports mRNA from the apical side of the nuclear membrane. I demonstrate that apical localisation is achieved by an RNA-mediated process and not by a DNA-mediated mechanism. Finally, I demonstrate that the intracellular localisation of transcripts encoding cytoplasmic proteins influences the distribution of the protein in the periplasm. I propose that the function of apical localisation is to limit the diffusion of pair-rule proteins so that the pattern of protein expression resembles precisely the transcriptional domain.