The FGF receptor Heartless (HTL) is required for mesodermal cell migration in the Drosophila gastrula. We show that mesoderm cells undergo different phases of specific cell shape changes during mesoderm migration. During the migratory phase, the cells adhere to the basal surface of the ectoderm and exhibit extensive protrusive activity. HTL is required for the protrusive activity of the mesoderm cells. Moreover, the early phenotype of htl mutants suggests that HTL is required for the adhesion of mesoderm cells to the ectoderm. In a genetic screen we identified pebble (pbl) as a novel gene required for mesoderm migration. pbl encodes a guanyl nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) for RHO1 and is known as an essential regulator of cytokinesis. We show that the function of PBL in cell migration is independent of the function of PBL in cytokinesis. Although RHO1 acts as a substrate for PBL in cytokinesis, compromising RHO1 function in the mesoderm does not block cell migration. These data suggest that the function of PBL in cell migration might be mediated through a pathway distinct from RHO1. This idea is supported by allele-specific differences in the expressivity of the cytokinesis and cell migration phenotypes of different pbl mutants. We show that PBL is autonomously required in the mesoderm for cell migration. Like HTL, PBL is required for early cell shape changes during mesoderm migration. Expression of a constitutively active form of HTL is unable to rescue the early cellular defects in pbl mutants, suggesting that PBL is required for the ability of HTL to trigger these cell shape changes. These results provide evidence for a novel function of the Rho-GEF PBL in HTL-dependent mesodermal cell migration.
- Cell migration