Anterior-posterior positional information in the absence of a strong Bicoid gradient

Amanda Ochoa-Espinosa, Danyang Yu, Aristotelis Tsirigos, Paolo Struffi, Stephen Small

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Bicoid (Bcd) transcription factor is distributed as a long-range concentration gradient along the anterior posterior (AP) axis of the Drosophila embryo. Bcd is required for the activation of a series of target genes, which are expressed at specific positions within the gradient. Here we directly tested whether different concentration thresholds within the Bcd gradient establish the relative positions of its target genes by flattening the gradient and systematically varying expression levels. Genome-wide expression profiles were used to estimate the total number of Bcd target genes, and a general correlation was found between the Bcd concentration required for activation and the positions where target genes are expressed in wildtype embryos. However, concentrations required for target gene activation in embryos with flattened Bcd were consistently lower than those present at each target gene's position in the wild-type gradient, suggesting that Bcd is in excess at every position along the AP axis. Also, several Bcd target genes were positioned in correctly ordered stripes in embryos with flattened Bcd, and we suggest that these stripes are normally regulated by interactions between Bcd and the terminal patterning system. Our findings argue strongly against the strict interpretation of the Bcd morphogen hypothesis, and support the idea that target gene positioning involves combinatorial interactions that are mediated by the binding site architecture of each gene's cis-regulatory elements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3823-3828
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 10 2009


  • Morphogen
  • Patterning
  • Transcription

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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