Neuronal birth and specification must be coordinated across the developing brain to generate the neurons that constitute neural circuits. We used the Drosophila visual system to investigate how development is coordinated to establish retinotopy, a feature of all visual systems. Photoreceptors achieve retinotopy by inducing their target field in the optic lobe, the lamina neurons, with a secreted differentiation cue, epidermal growth factor (EGF). We find that communication between photoreceptors and lamina cells requires a signaling relay through glia. In response to photoreceptor-EGF, glia produce insulin-like peptides, which induce lamina neuronal differentiation. Our study identifies a role for glia in coordinating neuronal development across distinct brain regions, thus reconciling the timing of column assembly with that of delayed differentiation, as well as the spatiotemporal pattern of lamina neuron differentiation.
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