Molecular genetics of transformer, a genetic switch controlling sexual differentiation in Drosophila

John M. Belote, Michael McKeown, Russell T. Boggs, Risa Ohkawa, Barbara A. Sosnowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


The transformer gene is one of a set of regulatory genes that form the hierarchy controlling all aspects of somatic sexual differentiation in Drosophila melanogaster. The gene transformer occupies an intermediate position in this hierarchy. Analysis of this gene has allowed us to determine the mechanism by which it is regulated in a sex‐specific manner and to examine the way in which the regulatory hierarchy is organized. The female‐specific expression of the tra gene, previously inferred from genetic observations, is bused on sex‐specific alternative splicing of tra pre‐mRNA and is not the result of sex‐specific transcriptional activation. The female‐specific RNA produced by this alternative splicing is the functional mediator of tra activity. Multiple genetic, molecular, and transformation experiments show that female‐specific activation of genes or gene products occurs in the order Sex lethal > transformer > transformer‐2 > doublesex · intersex > female differentiation. The results do not distinguish the level at which transformer might regulate the downstream gene transformer‐2. Neither transformer nor any of the downstream genes feedback on, or participate in, alternative splicing of transformer RNA. The mechanism by which Sex lethal regulates transformer splicing appears to be a repression of the use of one of a pair of splice acceptor sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-154
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopmental Genetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1989


  • Alternative splicing
  • Drosophila development
  • Sex determination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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