Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Department of Neurobiology; Budnik Lab; Freeman Lab

First Thesis Advisor

Vivian Budnik, PhD

Second Thesis Advisor

Marc Freeman


Drosophila, Drosophila Proteins, Neuroglia, Neuromuscular Junction, Presynaptic Terminals, Synapses, Synaptic Transmission


Emerging evidence in both vertebrates and invertebrates is redefining glia as active players in the development and integrity of the nervous system. The formation of functional neuronal circuits requires the precise addition of new synapses. Mounting evidence implicates glial function in synapse remodeling and formation. However, the precise molecular mechanisms governing these functions are poorly understood. My thesis work begins to define the molecular mechanisms by which glia communicate with neurons at the Drosophila neuromuscular junction (NMJ).

During development glia play a critical role in remodeling neuronal circuits in the CNS. In order to understand how glia remodel synapses, I manipulated a key component of the glial engulfment machinery, Draper. I found that during normal NMJ growth presynaptic boutons constantly shed membranes or debris. However, a loss of Draper resulted in an accumulation of debris and ghost boutons, which inhibited synaptic growth. I found that glia use the Draper pathway to engulf these excess membranes to sculpt synapses. Surprisingly, I found that muscle cells function as phagocytic cells as well by eliminating immature synaptic ghost boutons. This demonstrates that the combined efforts of glia and muscle are required for the addition of synapses and proper growth.

My work establishes that glia play a crucial role in synapse development at the NMJ and suggests that there are other glial-derived molecules that regulate synapse function. I identified one glial derived molecule critical for the development of the NMJ, a TGF-β ligand called Maverick. Presynaptically, Maverick regulates the activation of BMP pathway confirmed by reducing the transcription of the known target gene Trio. Postsynaptically, it regulates the transcription of Glass bottom boat (Gbb) in the muscle suggesting that glia modulate the function of Gbb and consequently the activation of the BMP retrograde pathway at NMJ. Surprisingly, I also found that glial Maverick regulates the transcription of Shaker potassium channel, suggesting that glia potentially could regulate muscle excitability and consequently modulate synaptic transmission. Future work will elucidate such hypothesis.

My work has demonstrated two novel roles for glia at the NMJ. First is that glia engulfing activity is important for proper synaptic growth. Second is that the secretion of glial-derived molecules are required to orchestrate synaptic development. This further supports that glia are critical active players in maintaining a functional nervous system.



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