Dopaminergic neurons provide reward learning signals in mammals and insects [1-4]. Recent work in Drosophila has demonstrated that water-reinforcing dopaminergic neurons are different to those for nutritious sugars . Here, we tested whether the sweet taste and nutrient properties of sugar reinforcement further subdivide the fly reward system. We found that dopaminergic neurons expressing the OAMB octopamine receptor  specifically convey the short-term reinforcing effects of sweet taste . These dopaminergic neurons project to the beta'2 and gamma4 regions of the mushroom body lobes. In contrast, nutrient-dependent long-term memory requires different dopaminergic neurons that project to the gamma5b regions, and it can be artificially reinforced by those projecting to the beta lobe and adjacent alpha1 region. Surprisingly, whereas artificial implantation and expression of short-term memory occur in satiated flies, formation and expression of artificial long-term memory require flies to be hungry. These studies suggest that short-term and long-term sugar memories have different physiological constraints. They also demonstrate further functional heterogeneity within the rewarding dopaminergic neuron population.
Shank1 regulates excitatory synaptic transmission in mouse hippocampal parvalbumin-expressing inhibitory interneurons
The Shank genes (SHANK1, 2, 3) encode scaffold proteins highly enriched in postsynaptic densities where they regulate synaptic structure in spiny neurons. Mutations in human Shank genes are linked to autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. Shank1 mutant mice exhibit intriguing cognitive phenotypes reminiscent of individuals with autism spectrum disorder. However, the molecular mechanisms leading to the human pathophysiological phenotypes and mouse behaviors have not been elucidated. In this study it is shown that Shank1 protein is highly localized in parvalbumin-expressing (PV+) fast-spiking inhibitory interneurons in the hippocampus. Importantly, a lack of Shank1 in hippocampal CA1 PV+ neurons reduced excitatory synaptic inputs and inhibitory synaptic outputs to pyramidal neurons. Furthermore, it is demonstrated that hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons in Shank1 mutant mice exhibit a shift in the excitatory and inhibitory balance (E-I balance), a pathophysiological hallmark of autism spectrum disorder. The mutant mice also exhibit lower expression of gephyrin (a scaffold component of inhibitory synapses), supporting the dysregulation of E-I balance in the hippocampus. These results suggest that Shank1 scaffold in PV+ interneurons regulates excitatory synaptic strength and participates in the maintenance of E-I balance in excitatory neurons.
Increased CRF signalling in a ventral tegmental area-interpeduncular nucleus-medial habenula circuit induces anxiety during nicotine withdrawal
Increased anxiety is a prominent withdrawal symptom in abstinent smokers, yet the neuroanatomical and molecular bases underlying it are unclear. Here we show that withdrawal-induced anxiety increases activity of neurons in the interpeduncular intermediate (IPI), a subregion of the interpeduncular nucleus (IPN). IPI activation during nicotine withdrawal was mediated by increased corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) receptor-1 expression and signalling, which modulated glutamatergic input from the medial habenula (MHb). Pharmacological blockade of IPN CRF1 receptors or optogenetic silencing of MHb input reduced IPI activation and alleviated withdrawal-induced anxiety; whereas IPN CRF infusion in mice increased anxiety. We identified a mesointerpeduncular circuit, consisting of ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopaminergic neurons projecting to the IPN, as a potential source of CRF. Knockdown of CRF synthesis in the VTA prevented IPI activation and anxiety during nicotine withdrawal. These data indicate that increased CRF receptor signalling within a VTA-IPN-MHb circuit triggers anxiety during nicotine withdrawal.
Functional Upregulation of alpha4* Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors in VTA GABAergic Neurons Increases Sensitivity to Nicotine Reward
Chronic nicotine exposure increases sensitivity to nicotine reward during a withdrawal period, which may facilitate relapse in abstinent smokers, yet the molecular neuroadaptation(s) that contribute to this phenomenon are unknown. Interestingly, chronic nicotine use induces functional upregulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the mesocorticolimbic reward pathway potentially linking upregulation to increased drug sensitivity. In the ventral tegmental area (VTA), functional upregulation of nAChRs containing the alpha4 subunit (alpha4* nAChRs) is restricted to GABAergic neurons. To test the hypothesis that increased functional expression of alpha4* nAChRs in these neurons modulates nicotine reward behaviors, we engineered a Cre recombinase-dependent gene expression system to selectively express alpha4 nAChR subunits harboring a "gain-of-function" mutation [a leucine mutated to a serine residue at the 9' position (Leu9'Ser)] in VTA GABAergic neurons of adult mice. In mice expressing Leu9'Ser alpha4 nAChR subunits in VTA GABAergic neurons (Gad2(VTA):Leu9'Ser mice), subreward threshold doses of nicotine were sufficient to selectively activate VTA GABAergic neurons and elicit acute hypolocomotion, with subsequent nicotine exposures eliciting tolerance to this effect, compared to control animals. In the conditioned place preference procedure, nicotine was sufficient to condition a significant place preference in Gad2(VTA):Leu9'Ser mice at low nicotine doses that failed to condition control animals. Together, these data indicate that functional upregulation of alpha4* nAChRs in VTA GABAergic neurons confers increased sensitivity to nicotine reward and points to nAChR subtypes specifically expressed in GABAergic VTA neurons as molecular targets for smoking cessation therapeutics.
The transient receptor potential A1 (TRPA1) channel is an evolutionarily conserved detector of temperature and irritant chemicals. Here, we show that two specific isoforms of TRPA1 in Drosophila are H2O2 sensitive and that they can detect strong UV light via sensing light-induced production of H2O2. We found that ectopic expression of these H2O2-sensitive Drosophila TRPA1 (dTRPA1) isoforms conferred UV sensitivity to light-insensitive HEK293 cells and Drosophila neurons, whereas expressing the H2O2-insensitive isoform did not. Curiously, when expressed in one specific group of motor neurons in adult flies, the H2O2-sensitive dTRPA1 isoforms were as competent as the blue light-gated channelrhodopsin-2 in triggering motor output in response to light. We found that the corpus cardiacum (CC) cells, a group of neuroendocrine cells that produce the adipokinetic hormone (AKH) in the larval ring gland endogenously express these H2O2-sensitive dTRPA1 isoforms and that they are UV sensitive. Sensitivity of CC cells required dTRPA1 and H2O2 production but not conventional phototransduction molecules. Our results suggest that specific isoforms of dTRPA1 can sense UV light via photochemical production of H2O2. We speculate that UV sensitivity conferred by these isoforms in CC cells may allow young larvae to activate stress response--a function of CC cells--when they encounter strong UV, an aversive stimulus for young larvae.
Caenorhabditis elegans exhibit a coupling between the defecation motor program and directed locomotion
Distinct motor programs can be coupled to refine the repertoire of behavior dynamics. However, mechanisms underlying such coupling are poorly understood. The defecation motor program (DMP) of C. elegans is composed of a succession of body contraction and expulsion steps, performed repeatedly with a period of 50-60 sec. We show that recurring patterns of directed locomotion are executed in tandem with, co-reset, and co-terminate with the DMP cycle. Calcium waves in the intestine and proton signaling were shown to regulate the DMP. We found that genetic manipulations affecting these calcium dynamics regulated the corresponding patterns of directed locomotion. Moreover, we observed the initiation of a recurring locomotion pattern 10 seconds prior to the posterior body contraction, suggesting that the synchronized motor program may initiate prior to the DMP. This study links two multi-step motor programs executed by C. elegans in synchrony, utilizing non-neuronal tissue to drive directed locomotion.
Immature neural circuits form excessive synaptic connections that are later refined through pruning of exuberant branches. In this issue, Bornstein et al. identify a role for JNK signaling in selective axon elimination through disassembly of cell adhesion complexes.
Ack1 is a dopamine transporter endocytic brake that rescues a trafficking-dysregulated ADHD coding variant
The dopamine (DA) transporter (DAT) facilitates high-affinity presynaptic DA reuptake that temporally and spatially constrains DA neurotransmission. Aberrant DAT function is implicated in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder. DAT is a major psychostimulant target, and psychostimulant reward strictly requires binding to DAT. DAT function is acutely modulated by dynamic membrane trafficking at the presynaptic terminal and a PKC-sensitive negative endocytic mechanism, or "endocytic brake," controls DAT plasma membrane stability. However, the molecular basis for the DAT endocytic brake is unknown, and it is unknown whether this braking mechanism is unique to DAT or common to monoamine transporters. Here, we report that the cdc42-activated, nonreceptor tyrosine kinase, Ack1, is a DAT endocytic brake that stabilizes DAT at the plasma membrane and is released in response to PKC activation. Pharmacologic and shRNA-mediated Ack1 silencing enhanced basal DAT internalization and blocked PKC-stimulated DAT internalization, but had no effects on SERT endocytosis. Both cdc42 activation and PKC stimulation converge on Ack1 to control Ack1 activity and DAT endocytic capacity, and Ack1 inactivation is required for stimulated DAT internalization downstream of PKC activation. Moreover, constitutive Ack1 activation is sufficient to rescue the gain-of-function endocytic phenotype exhibited by the ADHD DAT coding variant, R615C. These findings reveal a unique endocytic control switch that is highly specific for DAT. Moreover, the ability to rescue the DAT(R615C) coding variant suggests that manipulating DAT trafficking mechanisms may be a potential therapeutic approach to correct DAT coding variants that exhibit trafficking dysregulation.
We present an imaging system for pan-neuronal recording in crawling Caenorhabditis elegans. A spinning disk confocal microscope, modified for automated tracking of the C. elegans head ganglia, simultaneously records the activity and position of approximately 80 neurons that coexpress cytoplasmic calcium indicator GCaMP6s and nuclear localized red fluorescent protein at 10 volumes per second. We developed a behavioral analysis algorithm that maps the movements of the head ganglia to the animal's posture and locomotion. Image registration and analysis software automatically assigns an index to each nucleus and calculates the corresponding calcium signal. Neurons with highly stereotyped positions can be associated with unique indexes and subsequently identified using an atlas of the worm nervous system. To test our system, we analyzed the brainwide activity patterns of moving worms subjected to thermosensory inputs. We demonstrate that our setup is able to uncover representations of sensory input and motor output of individual neurons from brainwide dynamics. Our imaging setup and analysis pipeline should facilitate mapping circuits for sensory to motor transformation in transparent behaving animals such as C. elegans and Drosophila larva.
Occurrence and predictors of recurrence after a first episode of acute venous thromboembolism: population-based Worcester Venous Thromboembolism Study
Venous thromboembolism (VTE) has multiple risk factors and tends to recur. Despite the benefits of anticoagulation, the prevalence of, and case-fatality rate associated with, recurrent VTE remains a concern after an acute episode; it is particularly high during the acute treatment phase. We sought to quantify the magnitude, identify predictors, and develop risk score calculator of recurrence within 3 years after first-time VTE. This was a population-based surveillance study among residents of central Massachusetts (MA), USA, diagnosed with an acute first-time pulmonary embolism and/or lower-extremity deep vein thrombosis from 1999 to 2009 in hospital and ambulatory settings in all 12 central MA hospitals. Medical records were reviewed and validated. The 2989 study patients were followed for 5836 person-years [mean follow-up 23.4 (median 30) months]. Mean age was 64.3 years, 44 % were men, and 94 % were white. The cumulative incidence rate of recurrent VTE within 3 years after an index VTE was 15 % overall, and 25, 13, and 13 % among patients with active cancer, provoked, or unprovoked VTE, respectively. Multivariable regression indicated that active cancer, varicose vein stripping, and inferior vena cava filter placement were independent predictors of recurrence during both 3-month and 3-year follow-up. A risk score calculator was developed based on the 3-month prognostic model. In conclusion, the rate of VTE recurrence over 3 years of follow-up remained high. The risk score calculator may assist clinicians at the index encounter in determining the frequency of clinical surveillance and appropriate outpatient treatment of VTE during the acute treatment phase.
Diet-responsive Gene Networks Rewire Metabolism in the Nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to Provide Robustness against Vitamin B12 Deficiency: A Dissertation
Maintaining cellular homeostasis is a complex task, which involves monitoring energy states and essential nutrients, regulating metabolic fluxes to accommodate energy and biomass needs, and preventing buildup of potentially toxic metabolic intermediates and byproducts. Measures aimed at maintaining a healthy cellular economy inherently depend on the composition of nutrients available to the organism through its diet. We sought to delineate links between dietary composition, metabolic gene regulation, and physiological responses in the model organism C. elegans.
As a soil-dwelling bacterivore, C. elegans encounters diverse bacterial diets. Compared to a diet of E. coli OP50, a diet of Comamonas aquatica accelerates C. elegans developmental rate, alters egg-laying dynamics and shortens lifespan. These physiological responses are accompanied by gene expression changes. Taking advantage of this natural, genetically tractable predator-prey system, we performed genetic screens i) in C. elegans to identify regulators of diet-responsive genes, and ii) in E. coli and Comamonas to determine dietary factors driving transcriptional responses in C. elegans. We identified a C. elegans transcriptional program that regulates metabolic genes in response to vitamin B12 content in the bacterial diet. Interestingly, several B12- repressed metabolic genes of unknown function are highly activated when B12- dependent propionyl-CoA breakdown is impaired, and inactivation of these genes renders animals sensitive to propionate-induced toxicity. We provide genetic and metabolomic evidence in support of the hypothesis that these genes form a parallel, B12-independent, β-oxidation-like propionate breakdown shunt in C. elegans, similar to the pathway utilized by organisms like yeast and plants that do not use vitamin B12.
Transcriptional Regulation of the Drosophila Peptidoglycan Sensor PGRP-LC by the Steroid Hormone Ecdysone: A Masters Thesis
Drosophila is host to the steroid hormone ecdysone, which regulates development and immune functions using a common group of transcription factors. Developmentally-induced ecdysone pulses activate the expression of the EcR, BR-C, HR46, Eip74EF, Eip75B, Eip78C, and Eip93F, which assume control of hundreds of other genes involved in the transition from larva to pupa stage. Many of the transcription factors are related to mammalian nuclear hormone receptors by homology. In addition to these transcription factors, the ecdysoneregulated GATA factors SRP and PNR are required for the proper expression of the peptidoglycan sensor PGRP-LC, which belongs to a conserved class of proteins in innate immunity. Although the transcriptional network has been elucidated in development, it is unclear why ecdysone control of PGRP-LC gene activity involves these nine transcription factors and how ecdysone is regulated in the context of an infection in vivo.
An ecdysone-activated enhancer was located upstream of the PGRP-LC locus using a reporter plasmid. Female flies that lacked the enhancer had reduced PGRP-LC expression, but survived infection. Male flies did not experience these changes. Therefore, PGRP-LC enhancer appears to be a female-specific cis-regulatory element. The lack of survival phenotype could be caused by using an improper injection site. Bioinformatics software was used to identify putative individual and overlapping binding sites for some transcription factors. Site-directed mutations of the motifs reduced PGRP-LC promoter activity without abolishing the signal. These results suggest that the transcription factors assemble at multiple locations on the PGRP-LC enhancer and form strong protein-protein bonds. Septic injury led to elevated ecdysone in whole flies, which could be a neuroendocrine response to stress similar to the mammalian system. Steroid hormone regulation of immune receptors is a common theme in humans and flies, and these results could advance our understanding of the transcriptional regulation of related genes and gender differences observed in innate immune responses at the transcriptional level.
Exploring the Role of FUS Mutants from Stress Granule Incorporation to Nucleopathy in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: A Dissertation
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease characterized by preferential motor neuron death in the brain and spinal cord. The rapid disease progression results in death due to respiratory failure, typically within 3-5 years after disease onset. While ~90% of cases occur sporadically, remaining 10% of ALS cases show familial inheritance, and the number of genes linked to ALS has increased dramatically over the past decade.
FUS/TLS (Fused in Sarcoma/ Translocated to liposarcoma) is a nucleic acid binding protein that may regulate several cellular functions, including RNA splicing, transcription, DNA damage repair and microRNA biogenesis. More than 50 mutations in the FUS gene are linked to 4% of familial ALS, and many of these may disrupt the nuclear localization signal, leading to variable amounts of FUS accumulation in the cytoplasm. However, the mechanism by which FUS mutants cause motor neuron death is still unknown.
The studies presented in this dissertation focused on investigating the properties of FUS mutants in the absence and presence of stress conditions. We first examined how ALS-linked FUS mutants behaved in response to imposed stresses in both cell culture and zebrafish models of ALS. We found that FUS mutants were prone to accumulate in stress granules in proportion to their degree of cytoplasmic mislocalization under conditions of oxidative stress, ER stress, and heat shock.
However, many FUS missense mutants are retained predominantly in the nucleus, and this suggested the possibility that these mutants might also perturb one or more nuclear functions. In a human cell line expressing FUS variants and in human fibroblasts from an ALS patient, mutant FUS expression was associated with enlarged promyelocytic leukemia nuclear bodies (PML-NBs) under basal condition. Upon oxidative insult with arsenic trioxide (ATO), PML-NBs in control cells increased acutely in size and were turned over within 12-24 h, as expected. However, PML-NBs in FUS mutant cells did not progress through the expected turnover but instead continued to enlarge over 24 h. We also observed a persistent accumulation of the transcriptional repressor Daxx and the 11S proteasome regulator in association with these enlarged PML-NBs. Furthermore, the peptidase activities of the 26S proteasome were decreased in FUS mutant cells without any changes in the expression of proteasome subunits.
These results demonstrate that FUS mutant expression may alter cellular stress responses as manifested by (i) accumulation of mutant FUS into stress granules and (ii) inhibition of PML-NB dynamics. These findings suggest a novel nuclear pathology specific to mutant FUS expression that may perturb nuclear homeostasis and thereby contribute to ALS pathogenesis.