Germline mutations in Ras pathway components are associated with a large class of human developmental abnormalities, known as RASopathies, that are characterized by a range of structural and functional phenotypes, including cardiac defects and neurocognitive delays. Although it is generally believed that RASopathies are caused by altered levels of pathway activation, the signaling changes in developing tissues remain largely unknown. We used assays with spatiotemporal resolution in Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) and Danio rerio (zebrafish) to quantify signaling changes caused by mutations in MAP2K1 (encoding MEK), a core component of the Ras pathway that is mutated in both RASopathies and cancers in humans. Surprisingly, we discovered that intrinsically active MEK variants can both increase and reduce the levels of pathway activation in vivo. The sign of the effect depends on cellular context, implying that some of the emerging phenotypes in RASopathies may be caused by increased, as well as attenuated, levels of Ras signaling.
Germ-line mutations in components of the Ras/MAPK pathway result in developmental disorders called RASopathies, affecting about 1/1,000 human births. Rapid advances in genome sequencing make it possible to identify multiple disease-related mutations, but there is currently no systematic framework for translating this information into patient-specific predictions of disease progression. As a first step toward addressing this issue, we developed a quantitative, inexpensive, and rapid framework that relies on the early zebrafish embryo to assess mutational effects on a common scale. Using this assay, we assessed 16 mutations reported in MEK1, a MAPK kinase, and provide a robust ranking of these mutations. We find that mutations found in cancer are more severe than those found in both RASopathies and cancer, which, in turn, are generally more severe than those found only in RASopathies. Moreover, this rank is conserved in other zebrafish embryonic assays and Drosophila-specific embryonic and adult assays, suggesting that our ranking reflects the intrinsic property of the mutant molecule. Furthermore, this rank is predictive of the drug dose needed to correct the defects. This assay can be readily used to test the strengths of existing and newly found mutations in MEK1 and other pathway components, providing the first step in the development of rational guidelines for patient-specific diagnostics and treatment of RASopathies.
Piwi-Interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are central components of the piRNA pathway, which directs transposon silencing and guarantees genome integrity in the germ cells of several metazoans. In Drosophila, piRNAs are produced from discrete regions of the genome termed piRNA clusters, whose expression relies on the RDC complex comprised of the core proteins Rhino, Deadlock and Cutoff. To date, the RDC complex has been exclusively implicated in the regulation of the piRNA loci. Here we further elucidate the function of Cutoff and the RDC complex by performing genome-wide ChIP-seq and RNA-seq assays in the Drosophila germline and analyzing these data together with other publicly available data sets. In agreement with previous studies, we confirm that Cutoff is involved in the transcriptional regulation of piRNA clusters and in the repression of transposable elements in germ cells. Surprisingly, however, we find that Cutoff is enriched at and affects the expression of other non-coding RNAs, including spliceosomal RNAs (snRNAs) and small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs). At least in some instances, Cutoff appears to act at a transcriptional level in concert with Rhino and perhaps Deadlock. Finally, we show that mutations in Cutoff result in the deregulation of hundreds of protein-coding genes in germ cells. Our study uncovers a broader function for the RDC complex in the Drosophila germline development.
Animal development is characterized by signaling events that occur at precise locations and times within the embryo, but determining when and where such precision is needed for proper embryogenesis has been a long-standing challenge. Here we address this question for extracellular signal regulated kinase (Erk) signaling, a key developmental patterning cue. We describe an optogenetic system for activating Erk with high spatiotemporal precision in vivo. Implementing this system in Drosophila, we find that embryogenesis is remarkably robust to ectopic Erk signaling, except from 1 to 4 hr post-fertilization, when perturbing the spatial extent of Erk pathway activation leads to dramatic disruptions of patterning and morphogenesis. Later in development, the effects of ectopic signaling are buffered, at least in part, by combinatorial mechanisms. Our approach can be used to systematically probe the differential contributions of the Ras/Erk pathway and concurrent signals, leading to a more quantitative understanding of developmental signaling.
The basement membrane (BM), a sheet of extracellular matrix lining the basal side of epithelia, is essential for epithelial cell function and integrity, yet the mechanisms that control the basal restriction of BM proteins are poorly understood. In epithelial cells, a specialized pathway is dedicated to restrict the deposition of BM proteins basally. Here, we report the identification of a factor in this pathway, a homolog of the mammalian guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) Mss4, which we have named Stratum. The loss of Stratum leads to the missecretion of BM proteins at the apical side of the cells, forming aberrant layers in close contact with the plasma membrane. We found that Rab8GTPase acts downstream of Stratum in this process. Altogether, our results uncover the importance of this GEF/Rab complex in specifically coordinating the basal restriction of BM proteins, a critical process for the establishment and maintenance of epithelial cell polarity.
The study of development involves many important techniques. Here I am trying to reflect on the strength of genetic analysis and its ability to uncover unexpected relationships and regulatory inputs from seemingly unrelated pathways.
Cell migration plays crucial roles during development. An excellent model to study coordinated cell movements is provided by the migration of border cell clusters within a developing Drosophila egg chamber. In a mutagenesis screen, we isolated two alleles of the gene rickets (rk) encoding a G-protein-coupled receptor. The rk alleles result in border cell migration defects in a significant fraction of egg chambers. In rk mutants, border cells are properly specified and express the marker Slbo. Yet, analysis of both fixed as well as live samples revealed that some single border cells lag behind the main border cell cluster during migration, or, in other cases, the entire border cell cluster can remain tethered to the anterior epithelium as it migrates. These defects are observed significantly more often in mosaic border cell clusters, than in full mutant clusters. Reduction of the Rk ligand, Bursicon, in the border cell cluster also resulted in migration defects, strongly suggesting that Rk signaling is utilized for communication within the border cell cluster itself. The mutant border cell clusters show defects in localization of the adhesion protein E-cadherin, and apical polarity proteins during migration. E-cadherin mislocalization occurs in mosaic clusters, but not in full mutant clusters, correlating well with the rk border cell migration phenotype. Our work has identified a receptor with a previously unknown role in border cell migration that appears to regulate detachment and polarity of the border cell cluster coordinating processes within the cells of the cluster themselves.
The eggshells of drosophilid species provide a powerful model for studying the origins of morphological diversity. The dorsal appendages, or respiratory filaments, of these eggshells display a remarkable interspecies variation in number and shape, and the epithelial patterning underlying the formation of these structures is an area of active research. To extend the analysis of dorsal appendage formation to include morphogenesis, we developed an improved 3D image reconstruction approach. This approach revealed considerable interspecies variation in the cell shape changes and neighbor exchanges underlying appendage formation. Specifically, although the appendage floor in Drosophila melanogaster is formed through spatially ordered neighbor exchanges, the same structure in Scaptodrosophila pattersoni is formed through extreme changes in cell shape, whereas Drosophila funebris appears to display a combination of both cellular mechanisms. Furthermore, localization patterns of Par3/Bazooka suggest a self-organized, cell polarity-based origin for the variability of appendage number in S. pattersoni. Our results suggest that species deploy different combinations of apically and basally driven mechanisms to convert a two-dimensional primordium into a three-dimensional structure, and provide new directions for exploring the molecular origins of interspecies morphological variation.
Transient activation of the highly conserved extracellular-signal-regulated kinase (ERK) establishes precise patterns of cell fates in developing tissues. Quantitative parameters of these transients are essentially unknown, but a growing number of studies suggest that changes in these parameters can lead to a broad spectrum of developmental abnormalities. We provide a detailed quantitative picture of an ERK-dependent inductive signaling event in the early Drosophila embryo, an experimental system that offers unique opportunities for high-throughput studies of developmental signaling. Our analysis reveals a spatiotemporal pulse of ERK activation that is consistent with a model in which transient production of a short-ranged ligand feeds into a simple signal interpretation system. The pulse of ERK signaling acts as a switch in controlling the expression of the ERK target gene. The quantitative approach that led to this model, based on the integration of data from fixed embryos and live imaging, can be extended to other developmental systems patterned by transient inductive signals.
The border cells of Drosophila are a model system for coordinated cell migration. Ecdysone signaling has been shown to act as the timing signal to initiate the migration process. Here we find that mutations in phantom (phm), encoding an enzyme in the ecdysone biosynthesis pathway, block border cell migration when the entire follicular epithelium of an egg chamber is mutant, even when the associated germline cells (nurse cells and oocyte) are wild-type. Conversely, mutant germline cells survive and do not affect border cell migration, as long as the surrounding follicle cells are wild-type. Interestingly, even small patches of wild-type follicle cells in a mosaic epithelium are sufficient to allow the production of above-threshold levels of ecdysone to promote border cell migration. The same phenotype is observed with mutations in shade (shd), encoding the last enzyme in the pathway that converts ecdysone to the active 20-hydroxyecdysone. Administration of high 20-hydroxyecdysone titers in the medium can also rescue the border cell migration phenotype in cultured egg chambers with an entirely phm mutant follicular epithelium. These results indicate that in normal oogenesis, the follicle cell epithelium of each individual egg chamber must supply sufficient ecdysone precursors, leading ultimately to high enough levels of mature 20-hydroxyecdysone to the border cells to initiate their migration. Neither the germline, nor the neighboring egg chambers, nor the surrounding hemolymph appear to provide threshold amounts of 20-hydroxyecdysone to do so. This "egg chamber autonomous" ecdysone synthesis constitutes a useful way to regulate the individual maturation of the asynchronous egg chambers present in the Drosophila ovary.
The basement membrane (BM), a specialized sheet of the extracellular matrix contacting the basal side of epithelial tissues, plays an important role in the control of the polarized structure of epithelial cells. However, little is known about how BM proteins themselves achieve a polarized distribution. Here, we identify phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) as a critical regulator of the polarized secretion of BM proteins. A decrease of PIP2 levels, in particular through mutations in Phosphatidylinositol synthase (Pis) and other members of the phosphoinositide pathway, leads to the aberrant accumulation of BM components at the apical side of the cell without primarily affecting the distribution of apical and basolateral polarity proteins. In addition, PIP2 controls the apical and lateral localization of Crag (Calmodulin-binding protein related to a Rab3 GDP/GTP exchange protein), a factor specifically required to prevent aberrant apical secretion of BM. We propose that PIP2, through the control of Crag's subcellular localization, restricts the secretion of BM proteins to the basal side.
Inhibiting aggregation of the amyloid-beta (Aβ) peptide may be an effective strategy for combating Alzheimer's disease. As the high-resolution structure of the toxic Aβ aggregate is unknown, rational design of small molecule inhibitors is not possible, and inhibitors are best isolated by high-throughput screening. We applied high-throughput screening to a collection of 65,000 compounds to identify compound D737 as an inhibitor of Aβ aggregation. D737 diminished the formation of oligomers and fibrils, and reduced Aβ42-induced cytotoxicity. Most importantly, D737 increased the life span and locomotive ability of transgenic flies in a Drosophila melanogaster model of Alzheimer's disease (J Biol Chem, 287, 2012, 38992). To explore the chemical features that make D737 an effective inhibitor of Aβ42 aggregation and toxicity, we tested a small collection of eleven analogues of D737. Overall, the ability of a compound to inhibit Aβ aggregation was a good predictor of its efficacy in prolonging the life span and locomotive ability of transgenic flies expressing human Aβ42 in the central nervous system. Two compounds (D744 and D830) with fluorine substitutions on an aromatic ring were effective inhibitors of Aβ42 aggregation and increased the longevity of transgenic flies beyond that observed for the parent compound, D737.
In Drosophila melanogaster, the anteroposterior (AP) and dorsoventral (DV) axes of the oocyte and future embryo are established through the localization and translational regulation of gurken (grk) mRNA. This process involves binding of specific factors to the RNA during transport and a dynamic remodeling of the grk-containing ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complexes once they have reached their destination within the oocyte. In ovaries of spindle-class females, an activated DNA damage checkpoint causes inefficient Grk translation and ventralization of the oocyte. In a screen for modifiers of the oocyte DV patterning defects, we identified a mutation in the eIF1A gene as a dominant suppressor. We show that reducing the function of eIF1A in spnB ovaries suppresses the ventralized eggshell phenotype by restoring Grk expression. This suppression is not the result of more efficient DNA damage repair or of disrupted checkpoint activation, but is coupled to an increase in the amount of grk mRNA associated with polysomes. In spnB ovaries, the activated meiotic checkpoint blocks Grk translation by disrupting the accumulation of grk mRNA in a translationally competent RNP complex that contains the translational activator Oo18 RNA-binding protein (Orb); this regulation involves the translational repressor Squid (Sqd). We further propose that reduction of eIF1A allows more efficient Grk translation possibly because of the presence of specific structural features in the grk 5'UTR.
Calcium-dependent cysteine proteases of the calpain family are modulatory proteases that cleave their substrates in a limited manner. Among their substrates, calpains target vertebrate and invertebrate IκB proteins. Because proteolysis by calpains potentially generates novel protein functions, it is important to understand how this affects NFκB activity. We investigate the action of Calpain A (CalpA) on the Drosophila melanogaster IκB homologue Cactus in vivo. CalpA alters the absolute amounts of Cactus protein. Our data indicate, however, that CalpA uses additional mechanisms to regulate NFκB function. We provide evidence that CalpA interacts physically with Cactus, recognizing a Cactus pool that is not bound to Dorsal, a fly NFκB/Rel homologue. We show that proteolytic cleavage by CalpA generates Cactus fragments lacking an N-terminal region required for Toll responsiveness. These fragments are generated in vivo and display properties distinct from those of full-length Cactus. We propose that CalpA targets free Cactus, which is incorporated into and modulates Toll-responsive complexes in the embryo and immune system.
Morphogenesis of the respiratory appendages on eggshells of Drosophila species provides a powerful experimental system for studying how cell sheets give rise to complex three-dimensional structures. In Drosophila melanogaster, each of the two tubular eggshell appendages is derived from a primordium comprising two distinct cell types. Using live imaging and three-dimensional image reconstruction, we demonstrate that the transformation of this two-dimensional primordium into a tube involves out-of-plane bending followed by a sequence of spatially ordered cell intercalations. These morphological transformations correlate with the appearance of complementary distributions of myosin and Bazooka in the primordium. These distributions suggest that a two-dimensional pattern of line tensions along cell-cell edges on the apical side of the epithelium is sufficient to produce the observed changes in morphology. Computational modeling shows that this mechanism could explain the main features of tissue deformation and cell rearrangements observed during three-dimensional morphogenesis.
The Notch signaling pathway plays important roles in a variety of developmental events. The context-dependent activities of positive and negative modulators dramatically increase the diversity of cellular responses to Notch signaling. In a screen for mutations affecting the Drosophila melanogaster follicular epithelium, we isolated a mutation in CoREST that disrupts the Notch-dependent mitotic-to-endocycle switch of follicle cells at stage 6 of oogenesis. We show that Drosophila CoREST positively regulates Notch signaling, acting downstream of the proteolytic cleavage of Notch but upstream of Hindsight activity; the Hindsight gene is a Notch target that coordinates responses in the follicle cells. We show that CoREST genetically interacts with components of the Notch repressor complex, Hairless, C-terminal Binding Protein and Groucho. In addition, we demonstrate that levels of H3K27me3 and H4K16 acetylation are dramatically increased in CoREST mutant follicle cells. Our data indicate that CoREST acts as a positive modulator of the Notch pathway in the follicular epithelium as well as in wing tissue, and suggests a previously unidentified role for CoREST in the regulation of Notch signaling. Given its high degree of conservation among species, CoREST probably also functions as a regulator of Notch-dependent cellular events in other organisms.
Localized Gurken (Grk) translation specifies the anterior-posterior and dorsal-ventral axes of the developing Drosophila oocyte; spindle-class females lay ventralized eggs resulting from inefficient grk translation. This phenotype is thought to result from inhibition of the Vasa RNA helicase. In a screen for modifiers of the eggshell phenotype in spn-B flies, we identified a mutation in the lnk gene. We show that lnk mutations restore Grk expression but do not suppress the persistence of double-strand breaks nor other spn-B phenotypes. This suppression does not affect Egfr directly, but rather overcomes the translational block of grk messages seen in spindle mutants. Lnk was recently identified as a component of the insulin/insulin-like growth factor signaling (IIS) and TOR pathway. Interestingly, direct inhibition of TOR with rapamycin in spn-B or vas mutant mothers can also suppress the ventralized eggshell phenotype. When dietary protein is inadequate, reduced IIS-TOR activity inhibits cap-dependent translation by promoting the activity of the translation inhibitor eIF4E-binding protein (4EBP). We hypothesize that reduced TOR activity promotes grk translation independent of the canonical Vasa- and cap-dependent mechanism. This model might explain how flies can maintain the translation of developmentally important transcripts during periods of nutrient limitation when bulk cap-dependent translation is repressed.
Compelling evidence indicates that aggregation of the amyloid β (Aβ) peptide is a major underlying molecular culprit in Alzheimer disease. Specifically, soluble oligomers of the 42-residue peptide (Aβ42) lead to a series of events that cause cellular dysfunction and neuronal death. Therefore, inhibiting Aβ42 aggregation may be an effective strategy for the prevention and/or treatment of disease. We describe the implementation of a high throughput screen for inhibitors of Aβ42 aggregation on a collection of 65,000 small molecules. Among several novel inhibitors isolated by the screen, compound D737 was most effective in inhibiting Aβ42 aggregation and reducing Aβ42-induced toxicity in cell culture. The protective activity of D737 was most significant in reducing the toxicity of high molecular weight oligomers of Aβ42. The ability of D737 to prevent Aβ42 aggregation protects against cellular dysfunction and reduces the production/accumulation of reactive oxygen species. Most importantly, treatment with D737 increases the life span and locomotive ability of flies in a Drosophila melanogaster model of Alzheimer disease.
In a genetic screen we isolated mutations in CG10260, which encodes a phosphatidylinositol 4-kinase (PI4KIIIalpha), and found that PI4KIIIalpha is required for Hippo signaling in Drosophila ovarian follicle cells. PI4KIIIalpha mutations in the posterior follicle cells lead to oocyte polarization defects similar to those caused by mutations in the Hippo signaling pathway. PI4KIIIalpha mutations also cause misexpression of well-established Hippo signaling targets. The Merlin-Expanded-Kibra complex is required at the apical membrane for Hippo activity. In PI4KIIIalpha mutant follicle cells, Merlin fails to localize to the apical domain. Our analysis of PI4KIIIalpha mutants provides a new link in Hippo signal transduction from the cell membrane to its core kinase cascade.
The Drosophila body axes are established in the oocyte during oogenesis. Oocyte polarization is initiated by Gurken, which signals from the germline through the epidermal growth factor receptor (Egfr) to the posterior follicle cells (PFCs). In response the PFCs generate an unidentified polarizing signal that regulates oocyte polarity. We have identified a loss-of-function mutation of flapwing, which encodes the catalytic subunit of protein phosphatase 1β (PP1β) that disrupts oocyte polarization. We show that PP1β, by regulating myosin activity, controls the generation of the polarizing signal. Excessive myosin activity in the PFCs causes oocyte mispolarization and defective Notch signaling and endocytosis in the PFCs. The integrated activation of JAK/STAT and Egfr signaling results in the sensitivity of PFCs to defective Notch. Interestingly, our results also demonstrate a role of PP1β in generating the polarizing signal independently of Notch, indicating a direct involvement of somatic myosin activity in axis formation.