Multiple response elements in the sex-lethal early promoter ensure its female-specific expression pattern

Patricia A. Estes, Linda N. Keyes, Paul Schedl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


The choice of sexual identity in somatic tissues of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is determined early in embryogenesis by the X- chromosome-to-autosome (X/A) ratio. The system that signals the X/A ratio selects the sexual development pathway by determining the activity state of the binary switch Sex-lethal (Sxl). In 2X/2A animals, the X/A signalling system turns the Sxl gene on, ultimately activating an RNA-splicing autoregulatory feedback loop which serves to maintain the female state during the remainder of development. In 1X/2A animals, this autoregulatory feedback loop is not activated and the male state is subsequently maintained by the default splicing machinery. In the studies reported here, we have examined how the X/A signalling system controls the initial choice of sexual identity through its action on a special early embryonic Sxl promoter, Sxl-Pe. We show that in the early embryo, the activity of Sxl-Pe is controlled in a highly dose-sensitive fashion by the genes on the X chromosome that function as numerator elements and by genes located on the autosomes that function as denominator elements. Functional dissection of Sxl-Pe indicates that activating the promoter in females requires the cumulative action of multiple numerator genes which appear to exert their effects through reiterated cis- acting target sites in the promoter. Conversely, maintaining the promoter silent in males requires the repressive activities of denominator genes, and at least one of the denominator genes also appears to function through target sequences within the promoter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)904-917
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1995

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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