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Keywords:

  • forkhead domain;
  • forkhead domain;
  • winged helix domain;
  • embryo development;
  • phylogenetic relationships

Abstract

Genetic approaches in Drosophila led to the identification of Forkhead, the prototype of forkhead domain transcription factors that are now known to comprise an evolutionarily conserved family of proteins with essential roles in development and differentiation. Sequence analysis of the recently published genomic scaffold sequence from Drosophila melanogaster has allowed us to determine the presumably full complement of forkhead domain encoding genes in this species. We show herein that the Drosophila genome contains 17 forkhead domain encoding genes; 13 of these genes have orthologs in chordate species, and their products can be assigned to 10 of the 17 forkhead domain subclasses known from chordates. One Drosophila forkhead domain gene only has a Caenorhabditis elegans ortholog and may represent a subclass that is absent in chordates, while the remaining three cannot be classified. We present the mRNA expression patterns of seven previously uncharacterized members of this gene family and show that they are expressed in tissues from all three germ layers, including central and peripheral nervous system, epidermis, salivary gland primordia, endoderm, somatic mesoderm, and hemocyte progenitors. Furthermore, the expression patterns of two of these genes, fd19B and fd102C, suggest a role for them as gap genes during early embryonic head segmentation. Developmental Dynamics 229:357–366, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.