Stem Cell Self-renewal and Neuronal Differentiation in the Drosophila Central Nervous System
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The adoption and subsequent retention of distinct cellular fates upon cell division is a critical phenomenon in the development of multicellular organisms. A well-studied example of this process is stem cell divisions; stem cells must possess the capacity to self-renew in order to maintain a stem cell population, as well as to generate differentiated daughters for tissue growth and repair. Drosophila neuroblasts are the neural stem cells of the central nervous system and have emerged as an important model for stem cell divisions and the genetic control of daughter cell identities. Neuroblasts divide asymmetrically to generate daughters with distinct fates; one retains a neuroblast identity and the other, a ganglion mother cell, divides only once more to generate differentiated neurons and glia. Perturbing the asymmetry of neuroblast divisions can result in the failure to self-renew and the loss of the neural stem cell population; alternatively, ectopic self-renewal can occur, resulting in excessive neuroblast proliferation and tumorigenesis. Several genetic lesions have been characterized which cause extensive ectopic self-renewal, resulting in brains composed of neuroblasts at the expense of differentiated cells. This contrasts with wild type brains, which are composed mostly of differentiated cells and only a small pool of neuroblasts. We made use of these mutants by performing a series of microarray experiments comparing mutant brains (consisting mostly of neuroblasts) to wild type brains (which are mostly neurons). Using this approach, we generated lists of over 1000 putatively neuroblast-expressed genes and over 1000 neuronal genes; in addition, we were able to compare the transcriptional output of different mutants to infer the neuroblast subtype specificity of some of the transcripts. Finally, we verified the self-renewal function of a subset of the neuroblast genes using an RNAi-based screen, resulting in the identification of 84 putative self-renewal regulators. We went on to show that one of these genes, midlife crisis (mammals: RNF113a), is a well-conserved RNA splicing regulator which is required in postmitotic neurons for the maintenance of their differentiated state. Our data suggest that the mammalian ortholog performs the same function, implicating RNF113a as an important regulator of neuronal differentiation in humans.