Steroid-triggered, cell-autonomous programmed cell death of identified Drosophila motoneurons during metamorphosis
Winbush, Ari, 1979-
Programmed cell death (PCD) is a critical process during development and maturity of vertebrates and invertebrates. Aberrations in PCD are responsible for numerous developmental abnormalities and diseases in humans. Cell death pathways are surprisingly similar across species, so the study of PCD in simpler organisms such as insects provides important insight into the roles of cell death in higher animals including humans. Metamorphosis of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster , provides an excellent model system in which to study PCD. During metamorphosis, many obsolete larval structures undergo PCD, largely in response to changes in circulating levels of steroid hormones known as ecdysteroids. These effects of ecdysteroids are particularly striking in the nervous system, where many larval neurons undergo PCD or functional remodeling during metamorphosis. One wave of neuronal PCD takes place during the first 24 hours of metamorphosis while a second follows adult emergence. Studies in another insect, Manduca sexta , suggested that the rise in ecdysteroids that initiates metamorphosis, the prepupal pulse, may trigger the first wave of neuronal PCD in Drosophila . This dissertation investigated steroid-regulated neuronal PCD in Drosophila by studying an individually-identified larval motoneuron, RP2. Using molecular genetics, ïmmunocytochemistry and primary cell culture, I showed that abdominal RP2s undergo PCD within the first 24 hours of Drosophila metamorphosis; identified a role for previously-identified PCD genes and ecdysteroid receptors in RP2's demise; and demonstrated that the prepupal pulse of ecdysteroids acts directly and cell-autonomously on RP2s to activate PCD. These experiments advance our understanding of hormonally-induced cell death and its regulation within the developing nervous system. This dissertation includes unpublished co-authored material.