Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program



First Thesis Advisor

Marc R. Freeman, PhD


Axons, Drosophila melanogaster, Neuroglia, Neurodegenerative Diseases, Neurons, Wallerian Degeneration, Guanine Nucleotide Exchange Factors, TNF Receptor-Associated Factor 4


Dissertations, UMMS; Axons; Drosophila melanogaster; Neuroglia; Neurodegenerative Diseases; Neurons; Wallerian Degeneration; Guanine Nucleotide Exchange Factors; TNF Receptor-Associated Factor 4


Glia are the understudied brain cells that perform many functions essential to maintain nervous system homeostasis and protect the brain from injury. If brain damage occurs, glia rapidly adopt the reactive state and elicit a series of cellular and molecular events known as reactive gliosis, the hallmark of many neurodegenerative diseases. However, the molecular pathways that trigger and regulate this process remain poorly defined. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has glial cells that are strikingly similar to mammalian glia, and which also exhibit reactive responses after neuronal injury. By exploiting its powerful genetic toolbox, we are uniquely positioned to identify the genes that activate and execute glial responses to neuronal injury in vivo. In this dissertation, I use Wallerian degeneration in Drosophila as a model to characterize molecular pathways responsible for glia to recognize neural injury, become activated, and ultimately engulf and degrade axonal debris. I demonstrate a novel role for the GEF (guanine nucleotide exchange factors) complex DRK/DOS/SOS upstream of small GTPase Rac1 in glial engulfment activity and show that it acts redundantly with previously discovered Crk/Mbc/dCed-12 to execute glial activation after axotomy. In addition, I discovered an exciting new role for the TNF receptor associated factor 4 (TRAF4) in glial response to axon injury. I find that interfering with TRAF4 and the downstream kinase misshapen (msn) function results in impaired glial activation and engulfment of axonal debris. Unexpectedly, I find that TRAF4 physically associates with engulfment receptor Draper – making TRAF4 only second factor to bind directly to Draper – and show it is essential for Draper-dependent activation of downstream engulfment signaling, including transcriptional activation of engulfment genes via the JNK and STAT transcriptional cascades. All of these pathways are highly conserved from Drosophila to mammals and most are known to be expressed in mouse brain glia, suggesting functional conservation. My work should therefore serve as an excellent starting point for future investigations regarding their roles in glial activation/reactive gliosis in various pathological conditions of the mammalian central nervous system.



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