Steroid-triggered, cell-autonomous death of a Drosophila motoneuron during metamorphosis

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BACKGROUND: The metamorphosis of Drosophila melanogaster is accompanied by elimination of obsolete neurons via programmed cell death (PCD). Metamorphosis is regulated by ecdysteroids, including 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E), but the roles and modes of action of hormones in regulating neuronal PCD are incompletely understood.<br /><br />RESULTS: We used targeted expression of GFP to track the fate of a larval motoneuron, RP2, in ventral ganglia. RP2s in abdominal neuromeres two through seven (A2 to A7) exhibited fragmented DNA by 15 hours after puparium formation (h-APF) and were missing by 20 h-APF. RP2 death began shortly after the 'prepupal pulse' of ecdysteroids, during which time RP2s expressed ecdysteroid receptors (EcRs). Genetic manipulations showed that RP2 death required the function of EcR-B isoforms, the death-activating gene, reaper (but not hid), and the apoptosome component, Dark. PCD was blocked by expression of the caspase inhibitor p35 but unaffected by manipulating Diap1. In contrast, aCC motoneurons in neuromeres A2 to A7, and RP2s in neuromere A1, expressed EcRs during the prepupal pulse but survived into the pupal stage under all conditions tested. To test the hypothesis that ecdysteroids trigger RP2's death directly, we placed abdominal GFP-expressing neurons in cell culture immediately prior to the prepupal pulse, with or without 20E. 20E induced significant PCD in putative RP2s, but not in control neurons, as assessed by morphological criteria and propidium iodide staining.<br /><br />CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that the rise of ecdysteroids during the prepupal pulse acts directly, via EcR-B isoforms, to activate PCD in RP2 motoneurons in abdominal neuromeres A2 to A7, while sparing RP2s in A1. Genetic manipulations suggest that RP2's death requires Reaper function, apoptosome assembly and Diap1-independent caspase activation. RP2s offer a valuable 'single cell' approach to the molecular understanding of neuronal death during insect metamorphosis and, potentially, of neurodegeneration in other contexts.




Winbush, A., & Weeks, J. C. (2011). Steroid-triggered, cell-autonomous death of a Drosophila motoneuron during metamorphosis. Neural Development, 6(1).

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