One of the numerous functions of glial cells in Drosophila is the ensheathment of neurons to isolate them from the potassium-rich haemolymph, thereby establishing the blood-brain barrier. Peripheral nerves of flies are surrounded by three distinct glial cell types. Although all embryonic peripheral glia (ePG) have been identified on a single-cell level, their contribution to the three glial sheaths is not known. We used the Flybow system to label and identify each individual ePG in the living embryo and followed them into third instar larva. We demonstrate that all ePG persist until the end of larval development and some even to adulthood. We uncover the origin of all three glial sheaths and describe the larval differentiation of each peripheral glial cell in detail. Interestingly, just one ePG (ePG2) exhibits mitotic activity during larval stages, giving rise to up to 30 glial cells along a single peripheral nerve tract forming the outermost perineurial layer. The unique mitotic ability of ePG2 and the layer affiliation of additional cells were confirmed by in vivo ablation experiments and layer-specific block of cell cycle progression. The number of cells generated by this glial progenitor and hence the control of perineurial hyperplasia correlate with the length of the abdominal nerves. By contrast, the wrapping and subperineurial glia layers show enormous hypertrophy in response to larval growth. This characterisation of the embryonic origin and development of each glial sheath will facilitate functional studies, as they can now be addressed distinctively and genetically manipulated in the embryo.
von Hilchen, C. M., Bustos, A. E., Giangrande, A., Technau, G. M., & Altenhein, B. (2013). Predetermined embryonic glial cells form the distinct glial sheaths of the Drosophila peripheral nervous system. Development, 140(17), 3657–3668. https://doi.org/10.1242/dev.093245