Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Department of Neurobiology; Hong-Sheng Li Lab

First Thesis Advisor

Hong-Sheng Li


Drosophila, visual sensitivity, Drosophila Proteins, Eye, Photoreceptor Cells, Receptors, Neuropeptide, Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled, Rhodopsin, Contrast Sensitivity


High visual sensitivity is a common but important characteristic of animal eyes. It is especially critical for night vision. In animal eyes, photoreceptors are the first to receive the incoming rays of light and they convert the light signals to electrical signals before passing the information to interneurons in the eye and finally to the brain.

To function in dim light conditions, photoreceptors have developed high sensitivities to light. It is reported that both mammalian rod photoreceptors and Drosophilaphotoreceptors can detect single photons.

The high sensitivities of photoreceptors largely depend on a high content of rhodopsin, a light-stimulated G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), in light sensory organelles, outer segments in mammals and rhabdomeres in Drosophila. Two shared characteristics, the tightly packed photoreceptive membrane and the high concentration of rhodopsin in the membrane, work together to enable the photoreceptors to achieve the high content of rhodopsin in photosensory organelles in both mammals and Drosophila. In this thesis, I have used the Drosophilaeye as a model system to study the molecular mechanisms required for the maintenance of these two characteristics.

In the second chapter, I present a new molecular mechanism of preventing Gq-mediated rhabdomeral degeneration. A new gene named tadr (for torn and diminished rhabdomeres), when mutated, leads to visual sensitivity reduction and photoreceptor degeneration. Degeneration in the tadr mutant is characterized by shrunken and disrupted rhabdomeres. The TADR protein interacts in vitro with the major light receptor Rh1 rhodopsin, and genetic reduction of the Rh1 level suppresses the tadr-induced degeneration, suggesting the degeneration is Rh1-dependent. Nonetheless, removal of phospholipase C (PLC), a key enzyme in phototransduction, and that of Arr2 fail to inhibit rhabdomeral degeneration in the tadr mutant background. Biochemical analyses reveal that, in the tadr mutant, the Gq protein of Rh1 is defective in dissociation from the membrane during light stimulation. Importantly, reduction of Gq level by introducing a hypomorphic allele of Gαq gene greatly inhibits the tadr degeneration phenotype. These results may suggest that loss of a potential TADR-Rh1 interaction leads to an abnormality in the Gqsignaling, which in turn triggers rhabdomeral degeneration independent of the PLC phototransduction cascade. We propose that TADR-like proteins may also protect photoreceptors from degeneration in mammals including humans.

In the third chapter, I present a Drosophila CUB- and LDLa-domain transmembrane protein CULD that counteracts the visual arrestin Arr1-mediated endocytosis to retain rhodopsin in rhabdomeral membrane. CULD is mostly localized in rhabdomeres, but is also detected in scarce rhodopsin endocytic vesicles that contain Arr1. An intracellular region of CULD interacts with Arr1 in vitro. In both culdmutant and knockdown flies, a large amount of rhodopsin is mislocalized in the cell body of photoreceptors through lightdependent, Arr1-mediated endocytosis, leading to reduction of photoreceptor sensitivity. Expressing a wild-type CULD protein in photoreceptors, but not a mutant variant lacking the Arr1-interacting site, rescues both the rhodopsin mislocalization and the low sensitivity phenotypes. Once rhodopsin has been internalized in adult mutant flies, it is reversed only by expression of CULD but not by blocking endocytosis, suggesting that CULD promotes recycling of endocytosed rhodopsin to the rhabdomere. Our results demonstrate an important role of CULD in the maintenance of membrane rhodopsin density and photoreceptor sensitivity. We propose that a common cellular function of CUB- and LDLa-domain proteins, in both mammals and invertebrates, is to concentrate receptors including GPCRs in particular regions of cell membrane.

In summary, the work addressed in this thesis has identified new molecular mechavii nisms underlying the maintenance of visual sensitivity in Drosophila, either through preventing Gq-mediated rhabdomeral degeneration or through antagonizing arrestin-mediated rhodopsin endocytosis. This work has advanced our understanding of visual biology and the general regulatory mechanisms of GPCR signaling, and may provide valuable clues to pathologic studies of human retinal degeneration disorders.



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