Theses Doctoral

The role of Distal antenna in the regulation of D. melanogaster neural stem cell competence

Benchorin, Gillie

The brain is incredibly complex, with billions of diverse cells performing a variety of necessary functions. It is fascinating then, that a small group of progenitor cells are capable of generating all of the neural cell types. During development, robust and stable expression of identity factors is necessary for diverse cell fate determination, but progenitor cells must also be flexible to quickly change expression programs in response to developmental cues. The metazoan genome is non-randomly organized, and this organization is thought to underlie cell type specific gene expression programs. However, the process by which genome organization is stabilized, and then reorganized, is not well-understood.

A Drosophila neuroblast nuclear factor, Distal antenna (Dan), was previously identified as a key regulator of this process. Downregulation of Dan is necessary for a developmentally-timed genome reorganization in neural progenitors that terminates their competence to specify early-born cell types. Maintaining Dan expression prevents genome reorganization, extending the early competence window, and implicating Dan in the stabilization of the early competence state. The mechanisms through which Dan functions to stabilize the genome architecture is not known. In this work, we take advantage of the Drosophila embryonic ventral nerve cord model system to study Dan and its role in regulating neuroblast competence. We find that Dan, a DNA- binding protein that localizes throughout the nucleus in distinct puncta, coalesces into large, liquid condensates that relocalize to the nuclear periphery when DNA-binding is inhibited.

The size of the droplets increases as impairment to the DNA-binding domain increases, suggesting that Da normally exists in a competitive tug-of-war between genome binding and protein condensation at the nuclear periphery. We further find that while Dan is a highly intrinsically disordered protein, formation of the large droplets requires a LARKS domain – a glycine-rich, structural motif that forms kinked beta-sheets associated with labile interactions that underlie phase-separation. In embryos, Dan’s ability to maintain neural progenitor early competence requires both its Pipsqueak motif DNA-binding domain and phase separation properties.

Finally, we find that Dan interacts with proteins of the nuclear pore complex. In particular, we find that Elys, a core scaffold protein which has been shown to bind DNA and regulate nuclear architecture, is required for termination of the early competence window. Together, we propose a mechanism by which a single protein can exert opposing forces between DNA binding and self- association to organize progenitor genome architecture and regulate neuronal diversification.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Biological Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Kohwi, Minoree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 2, 2022