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Theses Doctoral

Internal tracheal sensory neuron wiring and function in Drosophila larvae

Qian, Cheng Sam

Organisms possess internal sensory systems to detect changes in physiological state. Despite the importance of these sensory systems for maintaining homeostasis, their development, sensory mechanisms, and circuitry are relatively poorly understood. To help address these gaps in knowledge, I used the tracheal dendrite (td) sensory neurons of Drosophila larvae as a model to gain insights into the cellular and molecular organization, developmental regulators, sensory functions and mechanisms, and downstream neural circuitry of internal sensory systems. In this thesis, I present data to show that td neurons comprise defined classes with distinct gene expression and axon projections to the CNS. The axons of one class project to the subesophageal zone (SEZ) in the brain, whereas the other terminates in the ventral nerve cord (VNC). This work identifies expression and a developmental role of the transcription factor Pdm3 in regulating the axon projections of SEZ-targeting td neurons. I find that ectopic expression of Pdm3 alone is sufficient to switch VNC-targeting td neurons to SEZ targets, and to induce the formation of putative synapses in these ectopic target regions. These results define distinct classes of td neurons and identity a molecular factor that contributes to diversification of central axon targeting. I present data to show that td neurons express chemosensory receptor genes and have chemosensory functions. Specifically, I show that td neurons express gustatory and ionotropic receptors and that overlapping subsets of td neurons are activated by decrease in O2 or increase in CO2 levels. I show that respiratory gas-sensitive td neurons are also activated when animals are submerged for a prolonged duration, demonstrating a natural-like condition in which td neurons are activated. I assessed the roles of chemosensory receptor genes in mediating the response of td neurons to O2 and CO2. As a result, I identify Gr28b as a mediator of td responses to CO2. Deletion of Gr28 genes or RNAi knockdown of Gr28b transcripts reduce the response of td neurons to CO2. Thus, these data identify two stimuli that are detected by td neurons, and establish a putative role for Gr28b in internal chemosensation in Drosophila larvae. Finally, I present data to elucidate the neural circuitry downstream of td sensory neurons. I show that td neurons synapse directly and via relays onto neurohormone populations in the central nervous system, providing neuroanatomical basis for internal sensory neuron regulation of hormonal physiology in Drosophila. These results pave the way for future work to functionally dissect the td circuitry to understand its function in physiology and behavior.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Neurobiology and Behavior
Thesis Advisors
Grueber, Wesley B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 16, 2018