Shortly after differentiating, neurons establish distinct axonal and dendritic compartments that are specialized to send and receive signals, respectively. Polarity is essential for neurons to function in a neuronal circuit, yet how neurons polarize within a developing organism remains virtually unknown. My long-term goal as an independent biomedical researcher is to identify the mechanisms that create distinct axonal and dendritic compartments within neurons and to understand how this contributes to normal neuronal function in vivo. This proposal is based on our finding in fruit flies that the microtubule-based molecular motor dynein is necessary for two key features of neuronal polarity: the polarized localization of dendritic proteins and organelles and the uniform plus-end distal orientation of axonal microtubules. Two outstanding questions I will address in this proposal are: (1) How is dynein's function in neurons controlled by its interactions with different cofactors? and (2) How is dynein's activity regulated by its interaction with microtubules;more specifically, do microtubule modifications (such as acetylation, detyrosination, and polyglutamylation) provide spatial cues that influence dynein's activity and thereby shape neuronal polarity? The mentored phase of this award will be carried out at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), under the guidance of Dr. Yuh Nung Jan. During the mentored phase, I will use a genetic approach to characterize the cofactors that provide functional specificity to dynein developing fruit fly nervous system (Aim 1). Next, I will extend my studies in vitro and develop a new dynein motor construct to determine how dynein motor activity is affected by microtubule modifications (Aim 2). To do so, I will collaborate with Dr. Ronald Vale (UCSF) to learn in vitro techniques to analyze motor- microtubule interactions, including single molecule motility assays. To address how microtubule modifications affect neuronal polarization in vivo (Aim 3), I will use new knock-in technique called "genomic engineering" to build reagents for my independent phase. Dr. Yang Hong (University of Pittsburgh), who pioneered the genomic engineering technique, will serve as a consultant, as will Dr. Anthony Wynshaw-Boris (UCSF), a leader in the study of genes linked to human neurodevelopmental disorders such as classical lissencephaly. During the independent phase, I will address the following questions: Are microtubule modifications necessary for neurons to form distinct axonal and dendritic compartments in vivo? Is any one modification particularly important, or are there combinations of modifications that specify axon or dendrite formation? How do microtubule modifications regulate polarized transport in developing neurons in vivo? To answer these questions, I will use genomic engineering to knock-in multiple tubulin alleles with targeted mutations that block different microtubule modifications, both singly and in combination. Using currently available reagents and new polarity markers that I will generate, I will then characterize the effect of these mutations on neuronal polarity and dynein-mediated polarized transport within developing fruit fly nervous system. Through this combination of in vitro and in vivo approaches, these studies will provide significant new insight into microtubule-based mechanisms that shape neuronal polarity in a developing organism.
Neuronal polarity is essential for developing neurons to properly integrate into functional neuronal circuits. Loss of polarity during early stages of development has been associated with several human developmental disorders, including classical lissencephaly. By characterizing the microtubule-based mechanisms that govern neuronal polarization in vivo, this project will provide important new insight into how neurons normally polarize and how disrupting this process leads to human disease.
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