Transposition-Driven Genomic Heterogeneity in the Drosophila Brain

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Science  05 Apr 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6128, pp. 91-95
DOI: 10.1126/science.1231965

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Neuronal Transposons

Transposons comprise a hefty chunk of the Drosophila genome and, unregulated, can generate mutations; thus, mechanisms exist to suppress transposon activity, particularly in the germline. Perrat et al. (p. 91) investigated transposon motility in neurons of the Drosophila brain. The mushroom body of the brain, responsible for olfactory memory, contains several different types of neurons. One class of neurons, the αβ neurons, exhibited increased transposon mobility, which generated increased neuronal diversity.


Recent studies in mammals have documented the neural expression and mobility of retrotransposons and have suggested that neural genomes are diverse mosaics. We found that transposition occurs among memory-relevant neurons in the Drosophila brain. Cell type–specific gene expression profiling revealed that transposon expression is more abundant in mushroom body (MB) αβ neurons than in neighboring MB neurons. The Piwi-interacting RNA (piRNA) proteins Aubergine and Argonaute 3, known to suppress transposons in the fly germline, are expressed in the brain and appear less abundant in αβ MB neurons. Loss of piRNA proteins correlates with elevated transposon expression in the brain. Paired-end deep sequencing identified more than 200 de novo transposon insertions in αβ neurons, including insertions into memory-relevant loci. Our observations indicate that genomic heterogeneity is a conserved feature of the brain.

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