The neurons innervating insect sense organs vary in number, shape, dendritic morphology, axonal projections and connectivity, providing abundant material for the genetic analysis of neuronal diversity. Here we describe the leg of Drosophila as a potential model system for this analysis. The leg of Drosophila comprises a variety of sense organs arranged in a precise and reproducible pattern. The cell bodies of the sensory neurons are located near the organ they innervate, which greatly facilitates their identification and accessibility. The development of the leg from its progenitor structure, the imaginal disc, is known in good detail. In particular, the time of appearance and of divisions of the sense organ precursors is known. The origin and mode of formation of the leg nerve (through which all sensory axons project into the central nervous system) has been described. The central projections of some of the sensory neurons have been examined by horseradish peroxidase backfill or DiI labelling. Finally, the expression of several genes that control the differentiation of various types of sensory neurons can be manipulated at will. We illustrate these different aspects, and discuss the potentials and shortcomings of this system.
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