Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Freeman Lab; Neurobiology

First Thesis Advisor

Marc Freeman, Ph.D.


Neuroglia, Axons, Phagocytosis, Nerve Degeneration, JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases, Drosophila melanogaster


The central nervous system (CNS) is composed of two types of cells: neurons that send electrical signals to transmit information throughout the animal and glial cells. Glial cells were long thought to be merely support cells for the neurons; however, recent work has identified many critical roles for these cells during development and in the mature animal. In the CNS, glial cells act as the resident immune cell and they are responsible for the clearance of dead or dying material. After neuronal injury or death, glial cells become reactive, exhibiting dramatic changes in morphology and patterns of gene expression and ultimately engulfing neuronal debris. This rapid clearance of degenerating neuronal material is thought to be crucial for suppression of inflammation and promotion of functional recovery, but molecular pathways mediating these engulfment events remain poorly defined.

Drosophila melanogaster is a genetically tractable model system in which to study glial biology. It has been shown that Drosophila glia rapidly respond to axonal injury both morphologically and molecularly and that they ultimately phagocytose the degenerating axonal debris. This glial response to axonal debris requires the engulfment receptor Draper and downstream signaling molecules dCed-6, Shark, and Rac1. However, much remains unknown about the molecular details of this response. In this thesis I show that Drosophila c-Jun kinase (dJNK) signaling is a critical in vivo mediator of glial engulfment activity. In response to axotomy, glial dJNK signals through a cascade involving the upstream MAPKKKs Slipper and TAK1, the MAPKK MKK4, and ultimately the Drosophila AP-1 transcriptional complex composed of JRA and Kayak to initiate glial phagocytosis of degenerating axons. Interestingly, loss of dJNK also blocked injury-induced up-regulation of Draper levels in glia and glial-specific over-expression of Draper was sufficient to rescue phenotypes associated with loss of dJNK signaling. I have identified the dJNK pathway as a novel mediator of glial engulfment activity and show that a primary role for the glial Slipper/Tak1→MKK4→dJNK→dAP-1 signaling cascade is activation of draper expression after axon injury.



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