Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Neurobiology; Francis Lab

First Thesis Advisor

Michael M. Francis


neuroscience, dendritic spine, C. elegans, synapse, neuron, development, maintenance


In the nervous system, billions of neurons undergo a multistep process to establish functional circuits. This entails accurate extension of dendritic and axonal processes and coordinated efforts of pre- and postsynaptic neurons to form synaptic connections. Although many axon guidance molecules and synaptic organizers have been identified, the molecular redundancy and the vast number of synapses in the brain has complicated attempts to define their precise roles. In order to understand the molecular mechanisms that encompass these processes, my studies utilize the genetic strengths and cellular precision available in Caenorhabditis elegans for in vivo investigations of nervous system development. In this work, I unravel cell-specific requirements for the transmembrane receptor integrin in regulating developmental axon guidance of GABAergic motor neurons. Furthermore, I address important questions about mechanisms of synapse formation and maintenance using a novel dendritic spine model in C. elegans. Using high resolution microscopy, I find that the formation of immature presynaptic vesicles and postsynaptic receptors are established prior to the outgrowth of dendritic spines at nascent synapses. During this early period of synapse formation, the kinesin-3 family protein UNC-104/KIF1A transports a transsynaptic adhesion molecule neurexin/NRX-1 to developing active zones, in order to maintain postsynaptic receptors and dendritic spines in the mature circuit. In the absence of nrx-1, spines initially form normally but collapse following their extension. These findings demonstrate that presynaptic NRX-1 is required to maintain postsynaptic structures. Together my work provides new insights into molecular mechanisms that define spatiotemporal characteristics of nervous system development and the maintenance of connectivity.



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Available for download on Sunday, April 02, 2023