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Deletions within its subcellular targeting domain enhance the axon protective capacity of Nmnat2 in vivo

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:03am

The NAD-synthesising enzyme Nmnat2 is a critical survival factor for axons in vitro and in vivo. We recently reported that loss of axonal transport vesicle association through mutations in its isoform-specific targeting and interaction domain (ISTID) reduces Nmnat2 ubiquitination, prolongs its half-life and boosts its axon protective capacity in primary culture neurons. Here, we report evidence for a role of ISTID sequences in tuning Nmnat2 localisation, stability and protective capacity in vivo. Deletion of central ISTID sequences abolishes vesicle association and increases protein stability of fluorescently tagged, transgenic Nmnat2 in mouse peripheral axons in vivo. Overexpression of fluorescently tagged Nmnat2 significantly delays Wallerian degeneration in these mice. Furthermore, while mammalian Nmnat2 is unable to protect transected Drosophila olfactory receptor neuron axons in vivo, mutant Nmnat2s lacking ISTID regions substantially delay Wallerian degeneration. Together, our results establish Nmnat2 localisation and turnover as a valuable target for modulating axon degeneration in vivo.

The circadian clock gates the intestinal stem cell regenerative state

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:03am

The intestine has evolved under constant environmental stresses, because an animal may ingest harmful pathogens or chemicals at any time during its lifespan. Following damage, intestinal stem cells (ISCs) regenerate the intestine by proliferating to replace dying cells. ISCs from diverse animals are remarkably similar, and the Wnt, Notch, and Hippo signaling pathways, important regulators of mammalian ISCs, are conserved from flies to humans. Unexpectedly, we identified the transcription factor period, a component of the circadian clock, to be critical for regeneration, which itself follows a circadian rhythm. We discovered hundreds of transcripts that are regulated by the clock during intestinal regeneration, including components of stress response and regeneration pathways. Disruption of clock components leads to arrhythmic ISC divisions, revealing their underappreciated role in the healing process.

Identification of distinct tyraminergic and octopaminergic neurons innervating the central complex of the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:03am

The central complex is a group of modular neuropils in the insect brain with a key role in visual memory, spatial orientation, and motor control. In desert locusts the neurochemical organization of the central complex has been investigated in detail, including the distribution of dopamine-, serotonin-, and histamine-immunoreactive neurons. In the present study we identified neurons immunoreactive with antisera against octopamine, tyramine, and the enzymes required for their synthesis, tyrosine decarboxylase (TDC) and tyramine beta-hydroxylase (TBH). Octopamine- and tyramine immunostaining in the central complex differed strikingly. In each brain hemisphere tyramine immunostaining was found in four neurons innervating the noduli, 12-15 tangential neurons of the protocerebral bridge, and about 17 neurons that supplied the anterior lip region and parts of the central body. In contrast, octopamine immunostaining was present in two bilateral pairs of ascending fibers innervating the upper division of the central body and a single pair of neurons with somata near the esophageal foramen that gave rise to arborizations in the protocerebral bridge. Immunostaining for TDC, the enzyme converting tyrosine to tyramine, combined the patterns seen with the tyramine- and octopamine antisera. Immunostaining for TBH, the enzyme converting tyramine to octopamine, in contrast, was strikingly similar to octopamine immunolabeling. We conclude that tyramine and octopamine act as neurotransmitters/modulators in distinct sets of neurons of the locust central complex with TBH likely being the rate-limiting enzyme for octopamine synthesis in a small subpopulation of TDC-containing neurons.

The genetics of monarch butterfly migration and warning colouration

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:03am

The monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, is famous for its spectacular annual migration across North America, recent worldwide dispersal, and orange warning colouration. Despite decades of study and broad public interest, we know little about the genetic basis of these hallmark traits. Here we uncover the history of the monarch's evolutionary origin and global dispersal, characterize the genes and pathways associated with migratory behaviour, and identify the discrete genetic basis of warning colouration by sequencing 101 Danaus genomes from around the globe. The results rewrite our understanding of this classic system, showing that D. plexippus was ancestrally migratory and dispersed out of North America to occupy its broad distribution. We find the strongest signatures of selection associated with migration centre on flight muscle function, resulting in greater flight efficiency among migratory monarchs, and that variation in monarch warning colouration is controlled by a single myosin gene not previously implicated in insect pigmentation.

Generation of transgenic zebra finches with replication-deficient lentiviruses

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:03am

Zebra finches have been a rich experimental system for studying neurobiological questions of relevance to human health for decades. In particular, finches are the leading nonhuman model organisms for investigating the biological basis of vocal learning, a critical behavioral substrate for speech acquisition. In addition, zebra finches are an ideal system for the study of brain asymmetry, hormonal control of brain development, physiological function of sleep, sex differences in the brain, behavioral-induced gene expression, and adult neurogenesis, among other questions. Despite their importance for neurobiology, the usefulness of finches as an experimental system has been restricted by a lack of genetic manipulation methods. To overcome this barrier, our laboratory has developed methods for generating transgenic birds, including zebra finches. The successful implementation of this transgenic technology by multiple research laboratories has the potential to dramatically accelerate the progress of our understanding of the genetic basis of complex biological processes such as vocal learning. Moreover, the ability to genetically manipulate zebra finches could also be used to generate novel genetic models for human disorders that cannot be studied elsewhere or that can be more easily studied in this small bird. Here, we describe a protocol to generate transgenic zebra finches using recombinant lentiviruses.

Studying circadian rhythms in Drosophila melanogaster

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

Circadian rhythms have a profound influence on most bodily functions: from metabolism to complex behaviors. They ensure that all these biological processes are optimized with the time-of-day. They are generated by endogenous molecular oscillators that have a period that closely, but not exactly, matches day length. These molecular clocks are synchronized by environmental cycles such as light intensity and temperature. Drosophila melanogaster has been a model organism of choice to understand genetically, molecularly and at the level of neural circuits how circadian rhythms are generated, how they are synchronized by environmental cues, and how they drive behavioral cycles such as locomotor rhythms. This review will cover a wide range of techniques that have been instrumental to our understanding of Drosophila circadian rhythms, and that are essential for current and future research.

Diverse cellular and molecular modes of axon degeneration

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

The elimination of large portions of axons is a widespread event in the developing and diseased nervous system. Subsets of axons are selectively destroyed to help fine-tune neural circuit connectivity during development. Axonal degeneration is also an early feature of nearly all neurodegenerative diseases, occurs after most neural injuries, and is a primary driver of functional impairment in patients. In this review we discuss the diversity of cellular mechanisms by which axons degenerate. Initial molecular characterization highlights some similarities in their execution but also argues that unique genetic programs modulate each mode of degeneration. Defining these pathways rigorously will provide new targets for therapeutic intervention after neural injury or in neurodegenerative disease.

Loss of Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase in Drosophila photoreceptors leads to blindness and age-dependent neurodegeneration

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

The activity of Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase establishes transmembrane ion gradients and is essential to cell function and survival. Either dysregulation or deficiency of neuronal Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase has been implicated in the pathogenesis of many neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and rapid-onset dystonia Parkinsonism. However, genetic evidence that directly links neuronal Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase deficiency to in vivo neurodegeneration has been lacking. In this study, we use Drosophila photoreceptors to investigate the cell-autonomous effects of neuronal Na(+)/K(+) ATPase. Loss of ATPalpha, an alpha subunit of Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase, in photoreceptors through UAS/Gal4-mediated RNAi eliminated the light-triggered depolarization of the photoreceptors, rendering the fly virtually blind in behavioral assays. Intracellular recordings indicated that ATPalpha knockdown photoreceptors were already depolarized in the dark, which was due to a loss of intracellular K(+). Importantly, ATPalpha knockdown resulted in the degeneration of photoreceptors in older flies. This degeneration was independent of light and showed characteristics of apoptotic/hybrid cell death as observed via electron microscopy analysis. Loss of Nrv3, a Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase beta subunit, partially reproduced the signaling and degenerative defects observed in ATPalpha knockdown flies. Thus, the loss of Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase not only eradicates visual function but also causes age-dependent degeneration in photoreceptors, confirming the link between neuronal Na(+)/K(+) ATPase deficiency and in vivo neurodegeneration. This work also establishes Drosophila photoreceptors as a genetic model for studying the cell-autonomous mechanisms underlying neuronal Na(+)/K(+) ATPase deficiency-mediated neurodegeneration.

Adult neurogenesis and its promise as a hope for brain repair

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

After the pioneer report by Joseph Altman of adult neurogenesis (AN) in mammals in 1962, the phenomenon of AN was “rediscovered” some 20 years later, first in songbirds and then in mammals. Since the 1990s, interest in AN was fueled by the hope that it could lead to the treatment of neurological deficits by grafting these neurons or their progenitors into brain areas affected by disease or injury. Unfortunately, after 20 years of intense research efforts there is no clear indication that AN can be harnessed for the repair of brain circuits. We argue that the exuberant optimism regarding the potential application of AN for brain repair was misguided by the belief that neurons and their precursors had extensive developmental plasticity. Many of the experiments investigating the potential of AN for brain repair were inspired by the idea that neuronal precursors would be able to adapt, and easily change their developmental fate to replace the lost neurons. However, research during the last 20 years has shown that, in most cases, the fate of neurons is strongly determined and that it rarely changes. Understanding the mechanisms that control neural cell fate may allow for the engineering of adult stem cells so that they can give rise to neurons with properties appropriate for the host circuit to be repaired. The lack of phenotypic flexibility of neuronal progenitors may eventually prove to be advantageous, as this may provide a high degree of predictability (and safety) in the properties of reprogrammed cells. We suggest that AN is still a useful model to understand how neurons integrate into adult brain circuits, and that brain repair will require a thorough understanding of the genetic programs that control neuronal fate and neuronal migration.

The Anaphase-Promoting Complex (APC) ubiquitin ligase regulates GABA transmission at the C. elegans neuromuscular junction

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

Regulation of both excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission is critical for proper nervous system function. Aberrant synaptic signaling, including altered excitatory to inhibitory balance, is observed in numerous neurological diseases. The ubiquitin enzyme system controls the abundance of many synaptic proteins and thus plays a key role in regulating synaptic transmission. The Anaphase-Promoting Complex (APC) is a multi-subunit ubiquitin ligase that was originally discovered as a key regulator of protein turnover during the cell cycle. More recently, the APC has been shown to function in postmitotic neurons, where it regulates diverse processes such as synapse development and synaptic transmission at glutamatergic synapses. Here we report that the APC regulates synaptic GABA signaling by acting in motor neurons to control the balance of excitatory (acetylcholine) to inhibitory (GABA) transmission at the Caenorhabditis elegans neuromuscular junction (NMJ). Loss-of-function mutants in multiple APC subunits have increased muscle excitation at the NMJ; this phenotype is rescued by expression of the missing subunit in GABA neurons. Quantitative imaging and electrophysiological analyses indicate that APC mutants have decreased GABA release but normal cholinergic transmission. Consistent with this, APC mutants exhibit convulsions in a seizure assay sensitive to reductions in GABA signaling. Previous studies in other systems showed that the APC can negatively regulate the levels of the active zone protein SYD-2 Liprin-alpha. Similarly, we found that SYD-2 accumulates in APC mutants at GABAergic presynaptic sites. Finally, we found that the APC subunit EMB-27 CDC16 can localize to presynapses in GABA neurons. Together, our data suggest a model in which the APC acts at GABAergic presynapses to promote GABA release and inhibit muscle excitation. These findings are the first evidence that the APC regulates transmission at inhibitory synapses and have implications for understanding nervous system pathologies, such as epilepsy, that are characterized by misregulated GABA signaling.

A magnetic compass aids monarch butterfly migration

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

Convincing evidence that migrant monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) use a magnetic compass to aid their fall migration has been lacking from the spectacular navigational capabilities of this species. Here we use flight simulator studies to show that migrants indeed possess an inclination magnetic compass to help direct their flight equatorward in the fall. The use of this inclination compass is light-dependent utilizing ultraviolet-A/blue light between 380 and 420 nm. Notably, the significance of light monarchs, the inclination compass may serve as an important orientation mechanism when directional daylight cues are unavailable and may also augment time-compensated sun compass orientation for appropriate directionality throughout the migration.

Signaling mechanisms regulating Wallerian degeneration

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

Wallerian degeneration (WD) occurs after an axon is cut or crushed and entails the disintegration and clearance of the severed axon distal to the injury site. WD was initially thought to result from the passive wasting away of the distal axonal fragment, presumably because it lacked a nutrient supply from the cell body. The discovery of the slow Wallerian degeneration (Wld(s)) mutant mouse, in which distal severed axons survive intact for weeks rather than only one to two days, radically changed our thoughts on the autonomy of axon survival. Wld(s) taught us that under some conditions the axonal compartment can survive for weeks after axotomy without a cell body. The phenotypic and molecular characterization of Wld(S) and current models for Wld(S) molecular function are reviewed herein-the mechanism(s) by which Wld(S) spares severed axons remains unresolved. However, recent studies inspired by Wld(s) have led to the identification of the first 'axon death' signaling molecules whose endogenous activities promote axon destruction during WD.

Long-distance mechanism of neurotransmitter recycling mediated by glial network facilitates visual function in Drosophila

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

Neurons rely on glia to recycle neurotransmitters such as glutamate and histamine for sustained signaling. Both mammalian and insect glia form intercellular gap-junction networks, but their functional significance underlying neurotransmitter recycling is unknown. Using the Drosophila visual system as a genetic model, here we show that a multicellular glial network transports neurotransmitter metabolites between perisynaptic glia and neuronal cell bodies to mediate long-distance recycling of neurotransmitter. In the first visual neuropil (lamina), which contains a multilayer glial network, photoreceptor axons release histamine to hyperpolarize secondary sensory neurons. Subsequently, the released histamine is taken up by perisynaptic epithelial glia and converted into inactive carcinine through conjugation with beta-alanine for transport. In contrast to a previous assumption that epithelial glia deliver carcinine directly back to photoreceptor axons for histamine regeneration within the lamina, we detected both carcinine and beta-alanine in the fly retina, where they are found in photoreceptor cell bodies and surrounding pigment glial cells. Downregulating Inx2 gap junctions within the laminar glial network causes beta-alanine accumulation in retinal pigment cells and impairs carcinine synthesis, leading to reduced histamine levels and photoreceptor synaptic vesicles. Consequently, visual transmission is impaired and the fly is less responsive in a visual alert analysis compared with wild type. Our results suggest that a gap junction-dependent laminar and retinal glial network transports histamine metabolites between perisynaptic glia and photoreceptor cell bodies to mediate a novel, long-distance mechanism of neurotransmitter recycling, highlighting the importance of glial networks in the regulation of neuronal functions.

The molecular ticks of the Drosophila circadian clock

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

Drosophila is a powerful model to understand the mechanisms underlying circadian rhythms. The Drosophila molecular clock is comprised of transcriptional feedback loops. The expressions of the critical transcriptional activator CLK and its repressors PER and TIM are under tight transcriptional control. However, posttranslational modification of these proteins and regulation of their stability are critical to their function and to the generation of 24-hr period rhythms. We review here recent progress made in our understanding of PER, TIM and CLK posttranslational control. We also review recent studies that are uncovering the importance of novel regulatory mechanisms that affect mRNA stability and translation of circadian pacemaker proteins and their output.

Microglia Function in Central Nervous System Development and Plasticity

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

The nervous system comprises a remarkably diverse and complex network of different cell types, which must communicate with one another with speed, reliability, and precision. Thus, the developmental patterning and maintenance of these cell populations and their connections with one another pose a rather formidable task. Emerging data implicate microglia, the resident myeloid-derived cells of the central nervous system (CNS), in the spatial patterning and synaptic wiring throughout the healthy, developing, and adult CNS. Importantly, new tools to specifically manipulate microglia function have revealed that these cellular functions translate, on a systems level, to effects on overall behavior. In this review, we give a historical perspective of work to identify microglia function in the healthy CNS and highlight exciting new work in the field that has identified roles for these cells in CNS development, maintenance, and plasticity.

Brains, Blood, and Guts: MeCP2 Regulates Microglia, Monocytes, and Peripheral Macrophages

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

Mutations in methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MECP2) underlie most cases of Rett Syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder with neurological and somatic impairments. In this issue of Immunity, Cronk et al. (2015) find that macrophages in MeCP2-deficient mice are abnormal in number, as well as in glucocorticoid, hypoxia, and inflammatory responses.

Sensory basis of lepidopteran migration: focus on the monarch butterfly

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

In response to seasonal habitats, migratory lepidopterans, exemplified by the monarch butterfly, have evolved migration to deal with dynamic conditions. During migration, monarchs use orientation mechanisms, exploiting a time-compensated sun compass and a light-sensitive inclination magnetic compass to facilitate fall migration south. The sun compass is bidirectional with overwintering coldness triggering the change in orientation direction for remigration northward in the spring. The timing of the remigration and milkweed emergence in the southern US have co-evolved for propagation of the migration. Current research is uncovering the anatomical and molecular substrates that underlie migratory-relevant sensory mechanisms with the antennae being critical components. Orientation mechanisms may be detrimentally affected by environmental factors such as climate change and sensory interference from human-generated sources.

Drosophila Central Nervous System Glia

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

Molecular genetic approaches in small model organisms like Drosophila have helped to elucidate fundamental principles of neuronal cell biology. Much less is understood about glial cells, although interest in using invertebrate preparations to define their in vivo functions has increased significantly in recent years. This review focuses on our current understanding of the three major neuron-associated glial cell types found in the Drosophila central nervous system (CNS)-astrocytes, cortex glia, and ensheathing glia. Together, these cells act like mammalian astrocytes: they surround neuronal cell bodies and proximal neurites, are coupled to the vasculature, and associate closely with synapses. Exciting recent work has shown essential roles for these CNS glial cells in neural circuit formation, function, plasticity, and pathology. As we gain a more firm molecular and cellular understanding of how Drosophila CNS glial cells interact with neurons, it is becoming clear they share significant molecular and functional attributes with mammalian astrocytes.

miR-124 Regulates the Phase of Drosophila Circadian Locomotor Behavior

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

Animals use circadian rhythms to anticipate daily environmental changes. Circadian clocks have a profound effect on behavior. In Drosophila, for example, brain pacemaker neurons dictate that flies are mostly active at dawn and dusk. miRNAs are small, regulatory RNAs ( approximately 22 nt) that play important roles in posttranscriptional regulation. Here, we identify miR-124 as an important regulator of Drosophila circadian locomotor rhythms. Under constant darkness, flies lacking miR-124 (miR-124(KO)) have a dramatically advanced circadian behavior phase. However, whereas a phase defect is usually caused by a change in the period of the circadian pacemaker, this is not the case in miR-124(KO) flies. Moreover, the phase of the circadian pacemaker in the clock neurons that control rhythmic locomotion is not altered either. Therefore, miR-124 modulates the output of circadian clock neurons rather than controlling their molecular pacemaker. Circadian phase is also advanced under temperature cycles, but a light/dark cycle partially corrects the defects in miR-124(KO) flies. Indeed, miR-124(KO) shows a normal evening phase under the latter conditions, but morning behavioral activity is suppressed. In summary, miR-124 controls diurnal activity and determines the phase of circadian locomotor behavior without affecting circadian pacemaker function. It thus provides a potent entry point to elucidate the mechanisms by which the phase of circadian behavior is determined.

SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: In animals, molecular circadian clocks control the timing of behavioral activities to optimize them with the day/night cycle. This is critical for their fitness and survival. The mechanisms by which the phase of circadian behaviors is determined downstream of the molecular pacemakers are not yet well understood. Recent studies indicate that miRNAs are important regulators of circadian outputs. We found that miR-124 shapes diurnal behavioral activity and has a striking impact on the phase of circadian locomotor behavior. Surprisingly, the period and phase of the neural circadian pacemakers driving locomotor rhythms are unaffected. Therefore, miR-124 is a critical modulator of the circadian output pathways that control circadian behavioral rhythms.

Dye-Sensitized Core/Active Shell Upconversion Nanoparticles for Optogenetics and Bioimaging Applications

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 11:02am

Near-infrared (NIR) dye-sensitized upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) can broaden the absorption range and boost upconversion efficiency of UCNPs. Here, we achieved significantly enhanced upconversion luminescence in dye-sensitized core/active shell UCNPs via the doping of ytterbium ions (Yb(3+)) in the UCNP shell, which bridged the energy transfer from the dye to the UCNP core. As a result, we synergized the two most practical upconversion booster effectors (dye-sensitizing and core/shell enhancement) to amplify upconversion efficiency. We demonstrated two biomedical applications using these UCNPs. By using dye-sensitized core/active shell UCNP embedded poly(methyl methacrylate) polymer implantable systems, we successfully shifted the optogenetic neuron excitation window to a biocompatible and deep tissue penetrable 800 nm wavelength. Furthermore, UCNPs were water-solubilized with Pluronic F127 with high upconversion efficiency and can be imaged in a mouse model.