Cell Fate Maintenance and Presynaptic Development in the Drosophila Eye
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Neurons in the central nervous system are typically not replaced and must therefore maintain their choice of fate and their synaptic connections throughout the life of an organism. I have used Drosophila genetics to analyze genes that prevent neurons from switching fates and allow them to form synapses onto target neurons. The Drosophila fly eye is composed of approximately 750 ommatidia, each comprising eight photoreceptor neurons (R1-R8) surrounded by non-neuronal accessory cells. These photoreceptor neurons undergo a well-defined developmental specification process and form synapses at defined locations in the brain. I have taken advantage of this system to investigate two questions: 1) how do neurons maintain their fate after specification? and 2) how do neurons form stable synapses? For the first half of my dissertation, I have focused my research on a gene, Sce, that I have shown is essential to prevent R7 neurons from undergoing a late switch in cell fate. Sce is an integral component of the Polycomb Group (PcG) complex that is essential for maintaining repression of multiple genes throughout the genome. I found that PcGs are required to prevent R7s from derepression of the R8-specific transcription factor Senseless. For the second half of my dissertation, I focused on the gene syd-1 that was identified to be required for proper presynaptic formation of R7 neurons. Previous studies in Caenorhabditis elegans suggested that Syd-1 acts upstream of Liprin-α and that Liprin-α promotes presynaptic development by binding the kinesin Kif1a to promote axon transport. I used live image analysis to show that, unlike Liprin-α, Syd-1 is not necessary to promote axon transport. Instead, we show that in R7s, Syd-1 acts upstream of Trio, and our results suggest that Syd-1's function is to promote Trio activity. This dissertation includes both my previously published and co-authored materials.