Transcriptional Regulation of Synapse Remodeling in C. elegans

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Transcriptional Regulation of Synapse Remodeling in C. elegans

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Title: Transcriptional Regulation of Synapse Remodeling in C. elegans
Author: Thompson-Peer, Katherine Louise
Citation: Thompson-Peer, Katherine Louise. 2012. Transcriptional Regulation of Synapse Remodeling in C. elegans. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: The ability of a neuron to alter its synaptic connections during development is essential to circuit assembly. Synapse remodeling or refinement has been observed in many species and many neuronal circuits, yet the mechanisms defining which neurons undergo remodeling are unclear. Moreover, the molecules that execute the process of remodeling are also obscure. To address this issue, we sought to identify targets of the transcription factor unc-55 COUP-TF, which acts as a cell-specific repressor of synapse remodeling in C. elegans. unc-55 COUP-TF is expressed in VD neurons, where it prevents synapse remodeling. DD neurons can remodel synapses because they do not express unc-55 COUP-TF. Ectopic expression of unc-55 COUP-TF in DD neurons prevents remodeling. We identified the transcription factor Hunchback-like hbl-1 as a target of UNC-55 COUP-TF repression. Differential expression of hbl-1 explains the cell-type specificity of remodeling. hbl-1 is expressed in the DD neurons that are capable of remodeling, and is not expressed in the VD neurons that do not remodel. In unc-55 mutants, hbl-1 expression increases in VD neurons where it promotes ectopic remodeling. Moreover, hbl-1 expression levels bidirectionally regulate the timing of DD remodeling, as increases in hbl-1 cause precocious remodeling while decreases in hbl-1 cause remodeling delays. Finally, hbl-1 coordinates heterochronic microRNA and neuronal activity pathways to regulate the timing of remodeling. Increases or decreases in circuit activity cause increases or decreases in hbl-1 expression, and consequently early or delayed remodeling. Thus, convergent regulation of hbl-1 expression defines a genetic mechanism that patterns activity-dependent synaptic remodeling across cell types and across developmental time. We identified other targets of UNC-55 COUP-TF regulation using gene expression profiling, and implicate some of these factors in the regulation of remodeling using functional genomic screens. Our work suggests roles for conserved networks of transcription factors in the regulation of remodeling. We propose a model in which hbl-1 and other targets of unc-55 COUP-TF transcriptional repression are responsible for regulating synapse remodeling in C. elegans.
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