A family of proteins related to Spätzle, the toll receptor ligand, are encoded in the Drosophila genome



The Drosophila gene Spätzle encodes the activating ligand for the Toll receptor. This signaling pathway is required for dorso-ventral patterning in the early embryo and an antifungal immune response in larvae and adults. The genome sequence of Drosophila shows that there are a total of eight Toll-like receptors and these may function in other aspects of embryonic development and innate immunity. Here we describe five Drosophila homologues of Spätzle (Spz2-6) found using an iterative searching method. All five appear to encode proteins containing neurotrophin-like cystine-knot domains. In addition, most retain a characteristic intron-exon structure shared with the prototype Spätzle gene. This provides evidence that the family arose by ancient gene duplication events and indicates that the gene products may represent activating ligands for corresponding Toll receptors. Expression studies show that only Spz4 is expressed strongly in larvae and adults and thus may be involved in an ancillary antifungal response mediated by Toll-5. By contrast, Spz6 shows a complex spatial and temporally regulated expression pattern in the late embryo. Thus the new Toll/Spätzle families of signaling molecules may have important roles in other aspects of development and immunity. Proteins 2001;45:71–80. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.