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The developmental expression dynamics of Drosophila melanogaster transcription factors

Boris Adryan12 and Sarah A Teichmann1

Author Affiliations

1 Computational Biology Group, Structural Studies Division, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QH, UK

2 Cambridge Systems Biology Centre and Department of Genetics, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EH, UK

Genome Biology 2010, 11:R40  doi:10.1186/gb-2010-11-4-r40

Published: 12 April 2010



Site-specific transcription factors (TFs) are coordinators of developmental and physiological gene expression programs. Their binding to cis-regulatory modules of target genes mediates the precise cell- and context-specific activation and repression of genes. The expression of TFs should therefore reflect the core expression program of each cell.


We studied the expression dynamics of about 750 TFs using the available genomics resources in Drosophila melanogaster. We find that 95% of these TFs are expressed at some point during embryonic development, with a peak roughly between 10 and 12 hours after egg laying, the core stages of organogenesis. We address the differential utilization of DNA-binding domains in different developmental programs systematically in a spatio-temporal context, and show that the zinc finger class of TFs is predominantly early expressed, while Homeobox TFs exhibit later expression in embryogenesis.


Previous work, dissecting cis-regulatory modules during Drosophila development, suggests that TFs are deployed in groups acting in a cooperative manner. In contrast, we find that there is rapid exchange of co-expressed partners amongst the fly TFs, at rates similar to the genome-wide dynamics of co-expression clusters. This suggests there may also be a high level of combinatorial complexity of TFs at cis-regulatory modules.