Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Neurobiology; Francis Lab

First Thesis Advisor

Michael Francis


synapse, C. elegans, neural development, nicotinic acetylcholine receptor


Proper synaptic connectivity is critical for communication between cells and information processing in the brain. Neurons are highly interconnected, forming synapses with multiple partners, and these connections are often refined during the course of development. While decades of research have elucidated many molecular players that regulate these processes, understanding their specific roles can be difficult due to the large number of synapses and complex circuitry in the brain. In this thesis, I investigate mechanisms that establish neural circuits in the simple organism C. elegans, allowing us to address this important problem with single cell resolution in vivo.

First, I investigate remodeling of excitatory synapses during development. I show that the immunoglobulin domain protein OIG-1 alters the timing of remodeling, demonstrating that OIG-1 stabilizes synapses in early development but is less critical for the formation of mature synapses. Second, I explore how presynaptic excitatory neurons instruct inhibitory synaptic connectivity. My work shows that disruption of cholinergic neurons alters the pattern of connectivity in partnering GABAergic neurons, and defines a time window during development in which cholinergic signaling appears critical. Lastly, I define novel postsynaptic specializations in GABAergic neurons that bear striking similarity to dendritic spines, and show that presynaptic nrx-1/neurexin is required for the development of spiny synapses. In contrast, cholinergic connectivity with their other postsynaptic partners, muscle cells, does not require nrx-1/neurexin. Thus, distinct molecular signals govern connectivity with these two cell types. Altogether, my findings identify fundamental principles governing synapse development in both the developing and mature nervous system.



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