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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.

Neurobiology of Monarch Butterfly Migration

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

Studies of the migration of the eastern North American monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) have revealed mechanisms behind its navigation. The main orientation mechanism uses a time-compensated sun compass during both the migration south and the remigration north. Daylight cues, such as the sun itself and polarized light, are processed through both eyes and integrated through intricate circuitry in the brain's central complex, the presumed site of the sun compass. Monarch circadian clocks have a distinct molecular mechanism, and those that reside in the antennae provide time compensation. Recent evidence shows that migrants can also use a light-dependent inclination magnetic compass for orientation in the absence of directional daylight cues. The monarch genome has been sequenced, and genetic strategies using nuclease-based technologies have been developed to edit specific genes. The monarch butterfly has emerged as a model system to study the neural, molecular, and genetic basis of long-distance animal migration.

Microglia: Architects of the Developing Nervous System

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

Microglia are resident macrophages of the central nervous system (CNS), representing 5-10% of total CNS cells. Recent findings reveal that microglia enter the embryonic brain, take up residence before the differentiation of other CNS cell types, and become critical regulators of CNS development. Here, we discuss exciting new work implicating microglia in a range of developmental processes, including regulation of cell number and spatial patterning of CNS cells, myelination, and formation and refinement of neural circuits. Furthermore, we review studies suggesting that these cellular functions result in the modulation of behavior, which has important implications for a variety of neurological disorders.

Extracellular vesicles round off communication in the nervous system

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

Functional neural competence and integrity require interactive exchanges among sensory and motor neurons, interneurons and glial cells. Recent studies have attributed some of the tasks needed for these exchanges to extracellular vesicles (such as exosomes and microvesicles), which are most prominently involved in shuttling reciprocal signals between myelinating glia and neurons, thus promoting neuronal survival, the immune response mediated by microglia, and synapse assembly and plasticity. Such vesicles have also been identified as important factors in the spread of neurodegenerative disorders and brain cancer. These extracellular vesicle functions add a previously unrecognized level of complexity to transcellular interactions within the nervous system.

Data from: Vitamin D Status in Pediatric Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 7:10am

This dataset is the primary data source for a manuscript submitted for publication.

Manuscript abstract:

Importance: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is associated with significant morbidity in children and adolescents, and the therapeutic efficacy of available treatment options is limited. The role of vitamin D supplementation in pediatric IBS is unclear as the vitamin D status of pediatric patients with IBS is unknown. Equally the relationship of vitamin D status with psychosomatic symptoms in children and adolescents is unclear.

Aim: To characterize the vitamin D status of pediatric patients with IBS using a case-control study design.

Hypothesis: Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] concentration will be similar between patients with IBS and controls.

Subjects and Methods: A retrospective case-controlled study of 116 controls (age 14.6 ± 4.3 y), male (n=49; 42.2%) and 55 subjects with IBS (age 16.5 ± 3.1y), male (n=11; 20%). Vitamin D deficiency was defined as 25(OH)D of /L; overweight as BMI of ≥85th but <95th percentile, and obesity as BMI ≥95th percentile. Seasons were categorized as summer, winter, spring, and fall. Major psychosomatic manifestations included in the analysis were depression, anxiety, and migraine.

Results: More than 50% of IBS subjects had vitamin D deficiency at a cut-off point of/L (52.7% vs. 26.7%, p=0.001); and >90% of IBS subjects had vitamin D deficiency at a cut-off point of/L (92.7% vs. 75%, p=0.006). IBS subjects had significantly lower mean 25(OH)D: 53.2 ± 15.8 nmol/L vs. 65.2 ± 28.0 nmol/L, p=0.003; and albumin: 6.2 ± 0.6 vs. 6.5 ± 0.6 µmol/L, p = 0.014. IBS subjects with migraine had significantly lower mean 25(OH)D level compared to controls (p=0.012). BMI z-score was similar between the controls and IBS subjects (0.5 ± 1.4 vs. 1.2 ± 2.9, p = 0.109).

Conclusion: In this study, patients with IBS had similar BMI as controls, but significantly lower 25(OH)D concentration. More than 50% of children and adolescents with IBS had vitamin D deficiency, while only 7.3% of patients with IBS were vitamin D sufficient. Randomized control trials are warranted to determine the role of adjunctive vitamin D therapy in pediatric IBS.

Using Drosophila models of Huntington's disease as a translatable tool

Wed, 11/02/2016 - 7:40am

The Huntingtin (Htt) protein is essential for a wealth of intracellular signaling cascades and when mutated, causes multifactorial dysregulation of basic cellular processes. Understanding the contribution to each of these intracellular pathways is essential for the elucidation of mechanisms that drive pathophysiology. Using appropriate models of Huntington's disease (HD) is key to finding the molecular mechanisms that contribute to neurodegeneration. While mouse models and cell lines expressing mutant Htt have been instrumental to HD research, there has been a significant contribution to our understating of the disease from studies utilizing Drosophila melanogaster. Flies have an Htt protein, so the endogenous pathways with which it interacts are likely conserved. Transgenic flies engineered to overexpress the human mutant HTT gene display protein aggregation, neurodegeneration, behavioral deficits and a reduced lifespan. The short life span of flies, low cost of maintaining stocks and genetic tools available for in vivo manipulation make them ideal for the discovery of new genes that are involved in HD pathology. It is possible to do rapid genome wide screens for enhancers or suppressors of the mutant Htt-mediated phenotype, expressed in specific tissues or neuronal subtypes. However, there likely remain many yet unknown genes that modify disease progression, which could be found through additional screening approaches using the fly. Importantly, there have been instances where genes discovered in Drosophila have been translated to HD mouse models.