GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Department of Neurobiology; Tzumin Lee Lab

First Thesis Advisor

Tzumin Lee


Neurons, Drosophila melanogaster, Genetic Variation, Mushroom Bodies


A functional central nervous system (CNS) is composed of numerous types of neurons. Neurons are derived from a limited number of multipotent neural stem cells. Previous studies have suggested three major strategies nature uses to diversify neurons: lineage identity specification that gives an individual neural stem cell distinct identity based on its position in the developing CNS; temporal identity specification that gives neurons derived from a neural stem cell distinct identities based on their birth-order within the lineage; and binary cell fate specification that gives different identities to the two sister postmitotic neurons derived from the terminal division of a common precursor. Through the combination of the three strategies, almost unlimited neuron types can be generated. To understand neuronal diversification, we have to understand the underlying molecular mechanisms of each of the three strategies.

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, has been an excellent model for studying neuronal diversity, mainly due to its easily traceable nervous system and an impressive collection of genetic tools. Studies in fly have provided us fundamental insights into lineage identity, temporal identity, and binary cell fate specifications. Nevertheless, previous studies mostly centered on the embryonic ventral nerve cord (VNC) because of its simpler organization. Our understanding of the generation of neuronal diversity in the fly brain is still rudimentary. In this thesis work, I focused on the mushroom body (MB) and three antennal lobe neuronal lineages, studying their neuronal diversification during postembryonic brain development. In Chapter I, I reviewed the previous studies that have built our current understanding of the neuronal diversification. In Chapter II, I showed that MB temporal identity changes are instructed by environmental cues. In Chapter III, to search for the potential factors that mediate the environmental control of the MB temporal identity changes, I silenced each of the 18 nuclear receptors (NRs) in the fly genome using RNA interference. Although I did not identify any NR important for the regulation of MB temporal identities, I found that unfulfilled is required for regulating axon guidance and for the MB neurons to acquire all major subtype-specific identities. In Chapter IV, I demonstrated that the Notch pathway and its antagonist Numb mediate binary cell fate determination in the three classical antennal lobe neuronal lineages— anterodorsal projection neuron (adPN), lateral antennal lobe (lAL), and ventral projection neuron (vPN)—in a context-dependent manner. Finally, in Chapter V, I did detailed lineage analysis for the lAL lineage, and identified four classes of local interneurons (LNs) with multiple subtypes innervating only the AL, and 44 types projection neurons (PNs) contributing to olfactory, gustatory, and auditory neural circuits. The PNs and LNs were generated simultaneously but with different tempos of temporal identity specification. I also showed that in the lAL lineage the Notch pathway not only specifies binary cell fates, but is also involved in the temporal identity specification.



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