Innate immunity in Drosophila is characterized by the inducible expression of antimicrobial peptides. We have investigated the development and regulation of immune responsiveness in Drosophila embryos after infection. Immune competence, as monitored by the induction of Cecropin A1-lacZ constructs, was observed first in the embryonic yolk. This observation suggests that the yolk plays an important role in the humoral immune response of the developing embryo by synthesizing antimicrobial peptides. Around midembryogenesis, the response in the yolk was diminished. Simultaneously, Cecropin expression became inducible in a large number of cells in the epidermis, demonstrating that late-stage embryos can synthesize their own antibiotics in the epidermis. This production likely serves to provide the hatching larva with an active antimicrobial barrier and protection against systemic infections. Cecropin expression in the yolk required the presence of a GATA site in the promoter as well as the involvement of the GATA-binding transcription factor Serpent (dGATAb). In contrast, neither the GATA site nor Serpent were necessary for Cecropin expression in the epidermis. Thus, the inducible immune responses in the yolk and in the epidermis can be uncoupled and call for distinct sets of transcription factors. Our data suggest that Serpent is involved in the distinction between a systemic response in the yolk/fat body and a local immune response in epithelial cells. In addition, the present study shows that signal transduction pathways controlling innate and epithelial defense reactions can be dissected genetically in Drosophila embryos
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