Extra tarsal joints and abnormal cuticular polarities in various mutants of Drosophila melanogaster

Lewis Irving Held, Christine Marie Duarte, Kourosh Derakhshanian

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The legs of flies from 16 different mutant strains of Drosophila melanogaster were examined for abnormal cuticular polarities and extra joints. The strains were chosen for study because they manifest abnormal cuticular polarities in some parts of the body (10 strains) or because they have missing or defective tarsal joints (6 strains). All but three of the stocks were found to exhibit misorientations of either the bristles, hairs, or "bract-socket vectors" on the legs. The latter term denotes an imaginary vector pointing from a hairlike structure called a "bract" to the bristle socket with which it is associated. On the legs of wild-type flies nearly all such vectors point distally, as do the bristles and hairs. In the mutant flies, the most common vector misorientation is a 180° reversal. When the bract-socket vectors of adjacent bristle sites in the same bristle row point toward one another, the distance between the sites is frequently abnormally large, whereas when the vectors point in opposite directions, the interval is frequently abnormally small. This correlation is interpreted to mean that bristle cells actively repel one another via cytoplasmic extensions that are longer in the direction of the bract-socket vector than in the opposite direction. Repulsive forces of this kind may be responsible for "fine-tuning" the regularity of bristle spacing in wild-type flies. Extra tarsal joints were found in eight of the 16 strains. A ninth strain completely lacking tarsal joints appears in some cases to have an extra tibia-basitarsus joint in its tibia. Whereas the tarsi of wild-type flies contain four joints, the tarsi of spiny legs mutant flies contain as many as eight joints. In this extreme extra-joint phenotype, four of the joints correspond to the normal wild-type joints, and there is an extra joint in every tarsal segment except the distal-most (fifth) segment. Nearly all such ectopic extra joints have inverted polarity. In other strains the extra tarsal joints are located mainly at the wild-type joint sites, and joints of this sort have wild-type polarity. The alternation of normal and inverted (extra) joints in spiny legs resembles the alternation of normal and inverted (extra) body segment boundaries in the embryonic-lethal mutant patch, suggesting that tarsal and body segmentation may share a common patterning mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-157
Number of pages13
JournalRoux's Archives of Developmental Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1986


  • Bristle
  • Cell polarity
  • Drosophila
  • Limb development
  • Pattern formation


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