Research Article

Glia relay differentiation cues to coordinate neuronal development in Drosophila

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Science  01 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6354, pp. 886-891
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan3174

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Wiring up the eye

During development, sensory systems must build topographic maps by connecting neurons at different levels within a circuit. Fernandes et al. now open a window into how the Drosophila eye develops these maps (see the Perspective by Isaacman-Beck and Clandinin). The authors show that glial cells that ensheath axons relay cues from photoreceptors to induce the differentiation of the photoreceptor target field—the so-called lamina neurons—in the Drosophila visual system. Thus, glia can play an instructive role in differentiation, helping to direct the spatiotemporal patterning of neurogenesis.

Science, this issue p. 886; see also p. 867

Abstract

Neuronal birth and specification must be coordinated across the developing brain to generate the neurons that constitute neural circuits. We used the Drosophila visual system to investigate how development is coordinated to establish retinotopy, a feature of all visual systems. Photoreceptors achieve retinotopy by inducing their target field in the optic lobe, the lamina neurons, with a secreted differentiation cue, epidermal growth factor (EGF). We find that communication between photoreceptors and lamina cells requires a signaling relay through glia. In response to photoreceptor-EGF, glia produce insulin-like peptides, which induce lamina neuronal differentiation. Our study identifies a role for glia in coordinating neuronal development across distinct brain regions, thus reconciling the timing of column assembly with that of delayed differentiation, as well as the spatiotemporal pattern of lamina neuron differentiation.

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