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1.  Automated protein-DNA interaction screening of Drosophila regulatory elements 
Nature methods  2011;8(12):1065-1070.
Drosophila melanogaster has one of the best characterized metazoan genomes in terms of functionally annotated regulatory elements. To explore how these elements contribute to gene regulation in the context of gene regulatory networks, we need convenient tools to identify the proteins that bind to them. Here, we present the development and validation of a highly automated protein-DNA interaction detection method, enabling the high-throughput yeast one-hybrid-based screening of DNA elements versus an array of full-length, sequence-verified clones containing 647 (over 85%) of predicted Drosophila transcription factors (TFs). Using six well-characterized regulatory elements (82 bp – 1kb), we identified 33 TF-DNA interactions of which 27 are novel. To simultaneously validate these interactions and locate their binding sites of involved TFs, we implemented a novel microfluidics-based approach that enables us to conduct hundreds of gel shift-like assays at once, thus allowing the retrieval of DNA occupancy data for each TF throughout the respective target DNA elements. Finally, we biologically validate several interactions and specifically identify two novel regulators of sine oculis gene expression and hence eye development.
PMCID: PMC3929264  PMID: 22037703
2.  An appetite for destruction 
Autophagy  2012;8(9):1401-1403.
Autophagy plays an important role in cellular survival by resupplying cells with nutrients during starvation or by clearing misfolded proteins and damaged organelles and thereby preventing degenerative diseases. Conversely, the autophagic process is also recognized as a cellular death mechanism. The circumstances that determine whether autophagy has a beneficial or a detrimental role in cellular survival are currently unclear. We recently showed that autophagy induction is detrimental in neurons that lack a functional AMPK enzyme (AMP-activated protein kinase) and that suffer from severe metabolic stress. We further demonstrated that autophagy and AMPK are interconnected in a negative feedback loop that prevents excessive and destructive stimulation of the autophagic process. Finally, we uncovered a new survival mechanism in AMPK-deficient neurons—cell cannibalism.
PMCID: PMC3442891  PMID: 22885706
AMPK; Drosophila; autophagy; cell death; croquemort; metabolism; neurodegeneration; phagocytosis; photoreceptor
3.  Loss and gain of Drosophila TDP-43 impair synaptic efficacy and motor control leading to age-related neurodegeneration by loss-of-function phenotypes 
Human Molecular Genetics  2013;22(8):1539-1557.
Cytoplasmic accumulation and nuclear clearance of TDP-43 characterize familial and sporadic forms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal lobar degeneration, suggesting that either loss or gain of TDP-43 function, or both, cause disease formation. Here we have systematically compared loss- and gain-of-function of Drosophila TDP-43, TAR DNA Binding Protein Homolog (TBPH), in synaptic function and morphology, motor control, and age-related neuronal survival. Both loss and gain of TBPH severely affect development and result in premature lethality. TBPH dysfunction caused impaired synaptic transmission at the larval neuromuscular junction (NMJ) and in the adult. Tissue-specific knockdown together with electrophysiological recordings at the larval NMJ also revealed that alterations of TBPH function predominantly affect pre-synaptic efficacy, suggesting that impaired pre-synaptic transmission is one of the earliest events in TDP-43-related pathogenesis. Prolonged loss and gain of TBPH in adults resulted in synaptic defects and age-related, progressive degeneration of neurons involved in motor control. Toxic gain of TBPH did not downregulate or mislocalize its own expression, indicating that a dominant-negative effect leads to progressive neurodegeneration also seen with mutational inactivation of TBPH. Together these data suggest that dysfunction of Drosophila TDP-43 triggers a cascade of events leading to loss-of-function phenotypes whereby impaired synaptic transmission results in defective motor behavior and progressive deconstruction of neuronal connections, ultimately causing age-related neurodegeneration.
PMCID: PMC3605831  PMID: 23307927
4.  Drosophila Models of Tauopathies: What Have We Learned? 
Aggregates of the microtubule-associated protein Tau are neuropathological hallmark lesions in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and related primary tauopathies. In addition, Tau is genetically implicated in a number of human neurodegenerative disorders including frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and Parkinson's disease (PD). The exact mechanism by which Tau exerts its neurotoxicity is incompletely understood. Here, we give an overview of how studies using the genetic model organism Drosophila over the past decade have contributed to the molecular understanding of Tau neurotoxicity. We compare the different available readouts for Tau neurotoxicity in flies and review the molecular pathways in which Tau has been implicated. Finally, we emphasize that the integration of genome-wide approaches in human or mice with high-throughput genetic validation in Drosophila is a fruitful approach.
PMCID: PMC3373119  PMID: 22701808
5.  Genetics and neurobiology of aggression in Drosophila 
Fly  2012;6(1):35-48.
Aggressive behavior is widely present throughout the animal kingdom and is crucial to ensure survival and reproduction. Aggressive actions serve to acquire territory, food, or mates and in defense against predators or rivals; while in some species these behaviors are involved in establishing a social hierarchy. Aggression is a complex behavior, influenced by a broad range of genetic and environmental factors. Recent studies in Drosophila provide insight into the genetic basis and control of aggression. The state of the art on aggression in Drosophila and the many opportunities provided by this model organism to unravel the genetic and neurobiological basis of aggression are reviewed.
PMCID: PMC3365836  PMID: 22513455
aggression; behavior; Drosophila; genetics; neurobiology
6.  Mutational analysis of the eyeless gene and phenotypic rescue reveal that an Intact Eyeless Protein is Necessary for normal Eye and Brain Development in Drosophila 
Developmental biology  2009;334(2):503-512.
Pax6 genes encode evolutionarily highly conserved transcription factors that are required for eye and brain development. Despite the characterization of mutations in Pax6 homologs in a range of organisms, and despite functional studies, it remains unclear what the relative importance is of the various parts of the Pax6 protein. To address this, we have studied the Drosophila Pax6 homolog eyeless. Specifically, we have generated new eyeless alleles, each with single missense mutations in one of the four domains of the protein. We show that these alleles result in abnormal eye and brain development while maintaining the OK107 eyeless GAL4 activity from which they were derived. We performed in vivo functional rescue experiments by expressing in an eyeless-specific pattern Eyeless proteins in which either the paired domain, the homeodomain, or the C-terminal domain was deleted. Rescue of the eye and brain phenotypes was only observed when full-length Eyeless was expressed, while all deletion constructs failed to rescue. These data, along with the phenotypes observed in the four newly characterized eyeless alleles, demonstrate the requirement for an intact Eyeless protein for normal Drosophila eye and brain development. They also suggest that some endogenous functions may be obscured in ectopic expression experiments.
PMCID: PMC2792711  PMID: 19666017
Eyeless; Pax6; Transcription Factor; Paired Domain; Homeodomain; Drosophila; eye; brain; development
7.  Mutations in many genes affect aggressive behavior in Drosophila melanogaster 
BMC Biology  2009;7:29.
Aggressive behavior in animals is important for survival and reproduction. Identifying the underlying genes and environmental contexts that affect aggressive behavior is important for understanding the evolutionary forces that maintain variation for aggressive behavior in natural populations, and to develop therapeutic interventions to modulate extreme levels of aggressive behavior in humans. While the role of neurotransmitters and a few other molecules in mediating and modulating levels of aggression is well established, it is likely that many additional genetic pathways remain undiscovered. Drosophila melanogaster has recently been established as an excellent model organism for studying the genetic basis of aggressive behavior. Here, we present the results of a screen of 170 Drosophila P-element insertional mutations for quantitative differences in aggressive behavior from their co-isogenic control line.
We identified 59 mutations in 57 genes that affect aggressive behavior, none of which had been previously implicated to affect aggression. Thirty-two of these mutants exhibited increased aggression, while 27 lines were less aggressive than the control. Many of the genes affect the development and function of the nervous system, and are thus plausibly relevant to the execution of complex behaviors. Others affect basic cellular and metabolic processes, or are mutations in computationally predicted genes for which aggressive behavior is the first biological annotation. Most of the mutations had pleiotropic effects on other complex traits. We characterized nine of these mutations in greater detail by assessing transcript levels throughout development, morphological changes in the mushroom bodies, and restoration of control levels of aggression in revertant alleles. All of the P-element insertions affected the tagged genes, and had pleiotropic effects on brain morphology.
This study reveals that many more genes than previously suspected affect aggressive behavior, and that these genes have widespread pleiotropic effects. Given the conservation of aggressive behavior among different animal species, these are novel candidate genes for future study in other animals, including humans.
PMCID: PMC2707370  PMID: 19519879
8.  Aberrant lysosomal carbohydrate storage accompanies endocytic defects and neurodegeneration in Drosophila benchwarmer 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2005;170(1):127-139.
Lysosomal storage is the most common cause of neurodegenerative brain disease in preadulthood. However, the underlying cellular mechanisms that lead to neuronal dysfunction are unknown. Here, we report that loss of Drosophila benchwarmer (bnch), a predicted lysosomal sugar carrier, leads to carbohydrate storage in yolk spheres during oogenesis and results in widespread accumulation of enlarged lysosomal and late endosomal inclusions. At the bnch larval neuromuscular junction, we observe similar inclusions and find defects in synaptic vesicle recycling at the level of endocytosis. In addition, loss of bnch slows endosome-to-lysosome trafficking in larval garland cells. In adult bnch flies, we observe age-dependent synaptic dysfunction and neuronal degeneration. Finally, we find that loss of bnch strongly enhances tau neurotoxicity in a dose-dependent manner. We hypothesize that, in bnch, defective lysosomal carbohydrate efflux leads to endocytic defects with functional consequences in synaptic strength, neuronal viability, and tau neurotoxicity.
PMCID: PMC2171373  PMID: 15998804

Results 1-8 (8)