After crossing the midline, different populations of commissural axons in Drosophila target specific longitudinal pathways at different distances from the midline. It has recently been shown that this choice of lateral position is governed by the particular combination of Robo receptors expressed by these axons, presumably in response to a gradient of Slit released by the midline. Here we propose a simple theoretical model of this combinatorial coding scheme. The principal results of the model are that purely quantitative rather than qualitative differences between the different Robo receptors are sufficient to account for the effects observed following removal or ectopic expression of specific Robo receptors, and that the steepness of the Slit gradient in vivo must exceed a certain minimum for the results observed experimentally to be consistent.

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