Helsingin yliopisto

 

Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

From actin monomers to bundles: The roles of twinfilin and α-actinin in Drosophila melanogaster development

Gudrun Wahlström

Doctoral dissertation, May 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Biosciences, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Division of genetics and Institute of Biotechnology.

The actin cytoskeleton is essential for a large variety of cell biological processes. Actin exists in either a monomeric or a filamentous form, and it is very important for many cellular functions that the local balance between these two actin populations is properly regulated. A large number of proteins participate in the regulation of actin dynamics in the cell, and twinfilin, one of the proteins examined in this thesis, belongs to this category. The second level of regulation involves proteins that crosslink or bundle actin filaments, thereby providing the cell with a certain shape. α-Actinin, the second protein studied, mainly acts as an actin crosslinking protein. Both proteins are conserved in organisms ranging from yeast to mammals. In this thesis, the roles of twinfilin and α-actinin in development were examined using Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism.

Twinfilin is an actin monomer binding protein that is structurally related to cofilin. In vitro, twinfilin reduces actin polymerisation by sequestering actin monomers. The Drosophila twinfilin (twf) gene was identified and found to encode a protein functionally similar to yeast and mammalian twinfilins. A strong hypomorphic twf mutation was identified, and flies homozygous for this allele were viable and fertile. The adult twf mutant flies displayed reduced viability, a rough eye phenotype and severely malformed bristles. The shape of the adult bristle is determined by the actin bundles that are regularly spaced around the perimeter of the developing pupal bristles. Examination of the twf pupal bristles revealed an increased level of filamentous actin, which in turn resulted in splitting and displacement of the actin bundles. The bristle defect was rescued by twf overexpression in developing bristles. The Twinfilin protein was localised at sites of actin filament assembly, where it was required to limit actin polymerisation. A genetic interaction between twinfilin and twinstar (the gene encoding Cofilin) was detected, consistent with the model predicting that both proteins act to limit the amount of filamentous actin.

α-Actinin has been implicated in several diverse cell biological processes. In Drosophila, the only function for α-actinin yet known is in the organisation of the muscle sarcomere. Muscle and non-muscle cells utilise different α-actinin isoforms, which in Drosophila are produced by alternative splicing of a single gene. In this work, novel α-actinin deletion alleles, including ActnΔ233, were generated, which specifically disrupted the transcript encoding the non-muscle α-actinin isoform. Nevertheless, ActnΔ233 homozygous mutant flies were viable and fertile with no obvious defects. By comparing α-actinin protein distribution in wild type and ActnΔ233 mutant animals, it could be concluded that non-muscle α-actinin is the only isoform expressed in young embryos, in the embryonic central nervous system and in various actin-rich structures of the ovarian germline cells. In the ActnΔ233 mutant, α-actinin was detected not only in muscle tissue, but also in embryonic epidermal cells and in certain follicle cell populations in the ovaries. The population of α-actinin protein present in non-muscle cells of the ActnΔ233 mutant is referred to as FC-α-actinin (Follicle Cell).

The follicular epithelium in the Drosophila ovary is a well characterised model system for studies on patterning and morphogenesis. Therefore, α-actinin expression, regulation and function in this tissue were further analysed. Examination of the α-actinin localisation pattern revealed that the basal actin fibres of the main body follicle cells underwent an organised remodelling during the final stages of oogenesis. This involved the assembly of a transient adhesion site in the posterior of the cell, in which α-actinin and Enabled (Ena) accumulated. Follicle cells genetically manipulated to lack all α-actinin isoforms failed to remodel their cytoskeleton and translocate Ena to the posterior of the cell, while the actin fibres as such were not affected. Neither was epithelial morphogenesis disrupted. The reorganisation of the basal actin cytoskeleton was also disturbed following ectopic expression of Decapentaplegic (Dpp) or as a result of a heat shock.

At late oogenesis, the main body follicle cells express both non-muscle α-actinin and FC-α-actinin, while the dorsal anterior follicle cells express only non-muscle α-actinin. The dorsal anterior cells are patterned by the Dpp and Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signalling pathways, and they will ultimately secrete the dorsal appendages of the egg. Experiments involving ectopic activation of EGFR and Dpp signalling showed that FC-α-actinin is negatively regulated by combined EGFR and Dpp signalling. Ubiquitous overexpression of the adult muscle-specific α-actinin isoform induced the formation of aberrant actin bundles in migrating follicle cells that did not normally express FC-α-actinin, provided that the EGFR signalling pathway was activated in the cells.

Taken together, this work contributes new data to our knowledge of α-actinin function and regulation in Drosophila. The cytoskeletal remodelling shown to depend on α-actinin function provides the first evidence that α-actinin has a role in the organisation of the cytoskeleton in a non-muscle tissue. Furthermore, the cytoskeletal remodelling constitutes a previously undescribed morphogenetic event, which may provide us with a model system for in vivo studies on adhesion dynamics in Drosophila.

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Last updated 07.04.2006

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