Slit/Robo-mediated axon guidance in Tribolium and Drosophila: divergent genetic programs build insect nervous systems.
ABSTRACT: As the complexity of animal nervous systems has increased during evolution, developmental control of neuronal connectivity has become increasingly refined. How has functional diversification within related axon guidance molecules contributed to the evolution of nervous systems? To address this question, we explore the evolution of functional diversity within the Roundabout (Robo) family of axon guidance receptors. In Drosophila, Robo and Robo2 promote midline repulsion, while Robo2 and Robo3 specify the position of longitudinal axon pathways. The Robo family has expanded by gene duplication in insects; robo2 and robo3 exist as distinct genes only within dipterans, while other insects, like the flour beetle Tribolium castaneum, retain an ancestral robo2/3 gene. Both Robos from Tribolium can mediate midline repulsion in Drosophila, but unlike the fly Robos cannot be down-regulated by Commissureless. The overall architecture and arrangement of longitudinal pathways are remarkably conserved in Tribolium, despite it having only two Robos. Loss of TcSlit causes midline collapse of axons in the beetle, a phenotype recapitulated by simultaneous knockdown of both Robos. Single gene knockdowns reveal that beetle Robos have specialized axon guidance functions: TcRobo is dedicated to midline repulsion, while TcRobo2/3 also regulates longitudinal pathway formation. TcRobo2/3 knockdown reproduces aspects of both Drosophila robo2 and robo3 mutants, suggesting that TcRobo2/3 has two functions that in Drosophila are divided between Robo2 and Robo3. The ability of Tribolium to organize longitudinal axons into three discrete medial-lateral zones with only two Robo receptors demonstrates that beetle and fly achieve equivalent developmental outcomes using divergent genetic programs.
Project description:Recognition molecules of the immunoglobulin (Ig) superfamily control axon guidance in the developing nervous system. Ig-like domains are among the most widely represented protein domains in the human genome, and the number of Ig superfamily proteins is strongly correlated with cellular complexity. In Drosophila, three Roundabout (Robo) Ig superfamily receptors respond to their common Slit ligand to regulate axon guidance at the midline: Robo and Robo2 mediate midline repulsion, Robo2 and Robo3 control longitudinal pathway selection, and Robo2 can promote midline crossing. How these closely related receptors mediate distinct guidance functions is not understood. We report that the differential functions of Robo2 and Robo3 are specified by their ectodomains and do not reflect differences in cytoplasmic signaling. Functional modularity of Robo2's ectodomain facilitates multiple guidance decisions: Ig1 and Ig3 of Robo2 confer lateral positioning activity, whereas Ig2 confers promidline crossing activity. Robo2's distinct functions are not dependent on greater Slit affinity but are instead due in part to differences in multimerization and receptor-ligand stoichiometry conferred by Robo2's Ig domains. Together, our findings suggest that diverse responses to the Slit guidance cue are imparted by intrinsic structural differences encoded in the extracellular Ig domains of the Robo receptors.
Project description:Axon pathfinding is critical for nervous system development, and it is orchestrated by molecular cues that activate receptors on the axonal growth cone. Robo family receptors bind Slit guidance cues to mediate axon repulsion. In mammals, the divergent family member Robo3 does not bind Slits, but instead signals axon repulsion from its own ligand, NELL2. Conversely, canonical Robos do not mediate NELL2 signaling. Here, we present the structures of NELL-Robo3 complexes, identifying a mode of ligand engagement for Robos that is orthogonal to Slit binding. We elucidate the structural basis for differential binding between NELL and Robo family members and show that NELL2 repulsive activity is a function of its Robo3 affinity and is enhanced by ligand trimerization. Our results reveal a mechanism of oligomerization-induced Robo activation for axon guidance and shed light on Robo family member ligand binding specificity, conformational variability, divergent modes of signaling, and evolution.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Robo1, Robo2 and Rig-1 (Robo3), members of the Robo protein family, are candidate receptors for the chemorepellents Slit and are known to play a crucial role in commissural axon guidance in the spinal cord. However, their roles at other axial levels remain unknown. Here we examine expression of Robo proteins by cerebellofugal (CF) commissural axons in the rostral hindbrain and investigate their roles in CF axon pathfinding by analysing Robo knockout mice. RESULTS: We analysed the expression of Robo proteins by CF axons originating from deep cerebellar neurons in rodent embryos, focusing on developmental stages of their midline crossing and post-crossing navigation. At the stage of CF axon midline crossing, mRNAs of Robo1 and Robo2 are expressed in the nuclear transitory zone of the cerebellum, where the primordium of the deep cerebellar nuclei are located, supporting the notion that CF axons express Robo1 and Robo2. Indeed, immunohistochemical analysis of CF axons labelled by electroporation to deep cerebellar nuclei neurons indicates that Robo1 protein, and possibly also Robo2 protein, is expressed by CF axons crossing the midline. However, weak or no expression of these proteins is found on the longitudinal portion of CF axons. In Robo1/2 double knockout mice, many CF axons reach the midline but fail to exit it. We find that CF axons express Rig-1 (Robo3) before they reach the midline but not after the longitudinal turn. Consistent with this in vivo observation, axons elicited from a cerebellar explant in co-culture with a floor plate explant express Rig-1. In Rig-1 deficient mouse embryos, CF axons appear to project ipsilaterally without reaching the midline. CONCLUSION: These results indicate that Robo1, Robo2 or both are required for midline exit of CF axons. In contrast, Rig-1 is required for their approach to the midline. However, post-crossing up-regulation of these proteins, which plays an important role in spinal commissural axon guidance, does not appear to be required for the longitudinal navigation of CF axons after midline crossing. Our results illustrate that although common mechanisms operate for midline crossing at different axial levels, significant variation exists in post-crossing navigation.
Project description:Transcription factors establish neural diversity and wiring specificity; however, how they orchestrate changes in cell morphology remains poorly understood. The Drosophila Roundabout (Robo) receptors regulate connectivity in the CNS, but how their precise expression domains are established is unknown. Here, we show that the homeodomain transcription factor Hb9 acts upstream of Robo2 and Robo3 to regulate axon guidance in the Drosophila embryo. In ventrally projecting motor neurons, hb9 is required for robo2 expression, and restoring Robo2 activity in hb9 mutants rescues motor axon defects. Hb9 requires its conserved repressor domain and functions in parallel with Nkx6 to regulate robo2. Moreover, hb9 can regulate the medio-lateral position of axons through robo2 and robo3, and restoring robo3 expression in hb9 mutants rescues the lateral position defects of a subset of neurons. Altogether, these data identify Robo2 and Robo3 as key effectors of Hb9 in regulating nervous system development.
Project description:Proper connectivity of the nervous system requires temporal and spatial control of axon guidance signaling. As commissural axons navigate across the CNS midline, ROBO-mediated repulsion has traditionally been thought to be repressed before crossing, and then to become upregulated after crossing. The regulation of the ROBO receptors involves multiple mechanisms that control protein expression, trafficking, and activity. Here, we report that mammalian ROBO1 and ROBO2 are not uniformly inhibited precrossing and are instead subject to additional temporal control via alternative splicing at a conserved microexon. The NOVA splicing factors regulate the developmental expression of ROBO1 and ROBO2 variants with small sequence differences and distinct guidance activities. As a result, ROBO-mediated axonal repulsion is activated early in development to prevent premature crossing and becomes inhibited later to allow crossing. Postcrossing, the ROBO1 and ROBO2 isoforms are disinhibited to prevent midline reentry and to guide postcrossing commissural axons to distinct mediolateral positions.
Project description:The Roundabout (Robo) family of axon guidance receptors has a conserved ectodomain arrangement of five immunoglobulin-like (Ig) domains plus three fibronectin type III (Fn) repeats. Based on the strong evolutionary conservation of this domain structure among Robo receptors, as well as in vitro structural and domain-domain interaction studies of Robo family members, this ectodomain arrangement is predicted to be important for Robo receptor signaling in response to Slit ligands. Here, we define the minimal ectodomain structure required for Slit binding and midline repulsive signaling in vivo by Drosophila Robo1. We find that the majority of the Robo1 ectodomain is dispensable for both Slit binding and repulsive signaling. We show that a significant level of midline repulsive signaling activity is retained when all Robo1 ectodomain elements apart from Ig1 are deleted, and that the combination of Ig1 plus one additional ectodomain element (Ig2, Ig5, or Fn3) is sufficient to restore midline repulsion to wild type levels. Further, we find that deleting four out of five Robo1 Ig domains (?Ig2-5) does not affect negative regulation of Robo1 by Commissureless (Comm) or Robo2, while variants lacking all three fibronectin repeats (?Fn1-3 and ?Ig2-Fn3) are insensitive to regulation by both Comm and Robo2, signifying a novel regulatory role for Robo1's Fn repeats. Our results provide an in vivo perspective on the importance of the conserved 5+3 ectodomain structure of Robo receptors, and suggest that specific biochemical properties and/or ectodomain structural conformations observed in vitro for domains other than Ig1 may have limited significance for in vivo signaling in the context of midline repulsion.
Project description:Recognition of the large secreted protein Slit by receptors of the Robo family provides fundamental signals in axon guidance and other developmental processes. In Drosophila, Slit-Robo signalling regulates midline crossing and the lateral position of longitudinal axon tracts. We report the functional dissection of Drosophila Slit, using structure analysis, site-directed mutagenesis and in vitro assays. The N-terminal region of Slit consists of a tandem array of four independently folded leucine-rich repeat (LRR) domains, connected by disulphide-tethered linkers. All three Drosophila Robos were found to compete for a single highly conserved site on the concave face of the second LRR domain of Slit. We also found that this domain is sufficient for biological activity in a chemotaxis assay. Other Slit activities may require Slit dimerisation mediated by the fourth LRR domain. Our results show that a small portion of Slit is able to induce Robo signalling and indicate that the distinct functions of Drosophila Robos are encoded in their divergent cytosolic domains.
Project description:The mechanisms controlling axon guidance are of fundamental importance in understanding brain development. Growing corticospinal and somatosensory axons cross the midline in the medulla to reach their targets and thus form the basis of contralateral motor control and sensory input. The motor and sensory projections appeared uncrossed in patients with horizontal gaze palsy with progressive scoliosis (HGPPS). In patients affected with HGPPS, we identified mutations in the ROBO3 gene, which shares homology with roundabout genes important in axon guidance in developing Drosophila, zebrafish, and mouse. Like its murine homolog Rig1/Robo3, but unlike other Robo proteins, ROBO3 is required for hindbrain axon midline crossing.
Project description:Precise spatiotemporal control of axon guidance factor expression is a prerequisite for formation of functional neuronal connections. Although Netrin/Dcc- and Robo/Slit-mediated attractive and repulsive guidance of commissural axons have been extensively studied, little is known about mechanisms controlling mediolateral positioning of longitudinal axons in vertebrates. Here, we use a genetic approach in zebrafish embryos to study pathfinding mechanisms of dopaminergic and neuroendocrine longitudinal axons projecting from the hypothalamus into hindbrain and spinal cord. The transcription factors Sim1a and Arnt2 contribute to differentiation of a defined population of dopaminergic and neuroendocrine neurons. We show that both factors also control aspects of axon guidance: Sim1a or Arnt2 depletion results in displacement of hypothalamo-spinal longitudinal axons towards the midline. This phenotype is suppressed in robo3 guidance receptor mutant embryos. In the absence of Sim1a and Arnt2, expression of the robo3 splice isoform robo3a.1 is increased in the hypothalamus, indicating negative control of robo3a.1 transcription by these factors. We further provide evidence that increased Robo3a.1 levels interfere with Robo2-mediated repulsive axon guidance. Finally, we show that the N-terminal domain unique to Robo3a.1 mediates the block of Robo2 repulsive activity. Therefore, Sim1a and Arnt2 contribute to control of lateral positioning of longitudinal hypothalamic-spinal axons by negative regulation of robo3a.1 expression, which in turn attenuates the repulsive activity of Robo2.
Project description:During nervous system development, commissural axons cross the midline despite the presence of repellant ligands. In Drosophila, commissural axons avoid premature responsiveness to the midline repellant Slit by expressing the endosomal sorting receptor Commissureless, which reduces surface expression of the Slit receptor Roundabout1 (Robo1). In this study, we describe a distinct mechanism to inhibit Robo1 repulsion and promote midline crossing, in which Roundabout2 (Robo2) binds to and prevents Robo1 signaling. Unexpectedly, we find that Robo2 is expressed in midline cells during the early stages of commissural axon guidance, and that over-expression of Robo2 can rescue robo2-dependent midline crossing defects non-cell autonomously. We show that the extracellular domains required for binding to Robo1 are also required for Robo2's ability to promote midline crossing, in both gain-of-function and rescue assays. These findings indicate that at least two independent mechanisms to overcome Slit-Robo1 repulsion in pre-crossing commissural axons have evolved in Drosophila.