Gradients of regulatory factors are essential for establishing precise patterns of gene expression during development; however, it is not clear how patterning information in multiple gradients is integrated to generate complex body plans. Here we show that opposing gradients of two Drosophila transcriptional repressors, Hunchback (Hb) and Knirps (Kni), position several segments by differentially repressing two distinct regulatory regions (enhancers) of the pair-rule gene even-skipped (eve). Computational and in vivo analyses suggest that enhancer sensitivity to repression is controlled by the number and affinity of repressor-binding sites. Because the kni expression domain is positioned between two gradients of Hb, each enhancer directs expression of a pair of symmetrical stripes, one on each side of the kni domain. Thus, only two enhancers are required for the precise positioning of eight stripe borders (four stripes), or more than half of the whole eve pattern. Our results show that complex developmental expression patterns can be generated by simple repressor gradients. They also support the utility of computational analyses for defining and deciphering regulatory information contained in genomic DNA.
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