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Neural Dev. 2008 Jul 10;3:16. doi: 10.1186/1749-8104-3-16.

Identification of genes influencing dendrite morphogenesis in developing peripheral sensory and central motor neurons.

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Centre for Research in Neuroscience, McGill University, Cedar Ave, Montreal, QC, H3G 1A4, Canada.



Developing neurons form dendritic trees with cell type-specific patterns of growth, branching and targeting. Dendrites of Drosophila peripheral sensory neurons have emerged as a premier genetic model, though the molecular mechanisms that underlie and regulate their morphogenesis remain incompletely understood. Still less is known about this process in central neurons and the extent to which central and peripheral dendrites share common organisational principles and molecular features. To address these issues, we have carried out two comparable gain-of-function screens for genes that influence dendrite morphologies in peripheral dendritic arborisation (da) neurons and central RP2 motor neurons.


We found 35 unique loci that influenced da neuron dendrites, including five previously shown as required for da dendrite patterning. Several phenotypes were class-specific and many resembled those of known mutants, suggesting that genes identified in this study may converge with and extend known molecular pathways for dendrite development in da neurons. The second screen used a novel technique for cell-autonomous gene misexpression in RP2 motor neurons. We found 51 unique loci affecting RP2 dendrite morphology, 84% expressed in the central nervous system. The phenotypic classes from both screens demonstrate that gene misexpression can affect specific aspects of dendritic development, such as growth, branching and targeting. We demonstrate that these processes are genetically separable. Targeting phenotypes were specific to the RP2 screen, and we propose that dendrites in the central nervous system are targeted to territories defined by Cartesian co-ordinates along the antero-posterior and the medio-lateral axes of the central neuropile. Comparisons between the screens suggest that the dendrites of peripheral da and central RP2 neurons are shaped by regulatory programs that only partially overlap. We focused on one common candidate pathway controlled by the ecdysone receptor, and found that it promotes branching and growth of developing da neuron dendrites, but a role in RP2 dendrite development during embryonic and early larval stages was not apparent.


We identified commonalities (for example, growth and branching) and distinctions (for example, targeting and ecdysone response) in the molecular and organizational framework that underlies dendrite development of peripheral and central neurons.

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