Oxygen delivery in many animals is enabled by the formation of unicellular capillary tubes that penetrate target tissues to facilitate gas exchange. We show that the tortuous outgrowth of tracheal unicellular branches towards their target tissues is controlled by complex local interactions with target cells. Slit, a phylogenetically conserved axonal guidance signal, is expressed in several tracheal targets and is required both for attraction and repulsion of tracheal branches. Robo and Robo2 are expressed in different branches, and are both necessary for the correct orientation of branch outgrowth. At the CNS midline, Slit functions as a repellent for tracheal branches and this function is mediated primarily by Robo. Robo2 is necessary for the tracheal response to the attractive Slit signal and its function is antagonized by Robo. We propose that the attractive and repulsive tracheal responses to Slit are mediated by different combinations of Robo and Robo2 receptors on the cell surface.
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