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Opponent vesicular transporters regulate the strength of glutamatergic neurotransmission in a C. elegans sensory circuit

Choi, Jung-Hwan; Horowitz, Lauren Bayer; Ringstad, Niels
At chemical synapses, neurotransmitters are packaged into synaptic vesicles that release their contents in response to depolarization. Despite its central role in synaptic function, regulation of the machinery that loads vesicles with neurotransmitters remains poorly understood. We find that synaptic glutamate signaling in a C. elegans chemosensory circuit is regulated by antagonistic interactions between the canonical vesicular glutamate transporter EAT-4/VGLUT and another vesicular transporter, VST-1. Loss of VST-1 strongly potentiates glutamate release from chemosensory BAG neurons and disrupts chemotaxis behavior. Analysis of the circuitry downstream of BAG neurons shows that excess glutamate release disrupts behavior by inappropriately recruiting RIA interneurons to the BAG-associated chemotaxis circuit. Our data indicate that in vivo the strength of glutamatergic synapses is controlled by regulation of neurotransmitter packaging into synaptic vesicles via functional coupling of VGLUT and VST-1.
PMID: 34732711
ISSN: 2041-1723
CID: 5038252

Development of specialized sensory neurons engages a nuclear receptor required for functional plasticity

Rossillo, Mary; Ringstad, Niels
During development, the nervous system generates neurons that serve highly specialized roles and, accordingly, possess unique functional attributes. The chemosensory BAG neurons of C. elegans are striking exemplars of this. BAGs sense the respiratory gas carbon dioxide (CO2) and, in a context-dependent manner, switch from mediating avoidance of CO2 to supporting CO2 attraction. To determine mechanisms that support the physiology and plasticity of BAG neurons, we used tandem ChIP-seq and cell targeted RNA-seq to identify gene targets of the transcription factor ETS-5, which is required for BAG development. A functional screen of ETS-5 targets revealed that NHR-6, the sole C. elegans NR4A-type nuclear receptor, is required for BAG-mediated avoidance of CO2 and regulates expression of a subset of BAG-specific genes. Unlike ets-5 mutants, which are defective for both attraction to and avoidance of CO2, nhr-6 mutants are fully competent for attraction. These data indicate that the remarkable ability of BAGs to adaptively assign positive or negative valence to a chemosensory stimulus requires a gene-regulatory program supported by an evolutionarily conserved type of nuclear receptor. We suggest that NHR-6 might be an example of a developmental mechanism for modular encoding of functional plasticity in the nervous system.
PMID: 33184226
ISSN: 1549-5477
CID: 4671912

A microbial metabolite synergizes with endogenous serotonin to trigger C. elegans reproductive behavior

Chen, Yen-Chih; Seyedsayamdost, Mohammad R; Ringstad, Niels
Natural products are a major source of small-molecule therapeutics, including those that target the nervous system. We have used a simple serotonin-dependent behavior of the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, egg laying, to perform a behavior-based screen for natural products that affect serotonin signaling. Our screen yielded agonists of G protein-coupled serotonin receptors, protein kinase C agonists, and a microbial metabolite not previously known to interact with serotonin signaling pathways: the disulfide-bridged 2,5-diketopiperazine gliotoxin. Effects of gliotoxin on egg-laying behavior required the G protein-coupled serotonin receptors SER-1 and SER-7, and the Gq ortholog EGL-30. Furthermore, mutants lacking serotonergic neurons and mutants that cannot synthesize serotonin were profoundly resistant to gliotoxin. Exogenous serotonin restored their sensitivity to gliotoxin, indicating that this compound synergizes with endogenous serotonin to elicit behavior. These data show that a microbial metabolite with no structural similarity to known serotonergic agonists potentiates an endogenous serotonin signal to affect behavior. Based on this study, we suggest that microbial metabolites are a rich source of functionally novel neuroactive molecules.
PMID: 33199611
ISSN: 1091-6490
CID: 4672482

Insulin-like Peptides as Agents of Social Change

Brissette, Benjamin; Ringstad, Niels
Many behaviors promote reproduction or food finding. These critical functions of behavior can conflict; successful reproductive strategies can grow populations to the point where food is depleted. In this issue of Neuron, Wu et al. (2019) show how the nematode C. elegans detects crowding to change feeding behavior by coupling pheromone sensing to signaling via insulin-like peptides.
PMID: 31951533
ISSN: 1097-4199
CID: 4264022

Repression of an activity-dependent autocrine insulin signal is required for sensory neuron development in C. elegans

Horowitz, Lauren Bayer; Brandt, Julia P; Ringstad, Niels
Nervous system development is instructed by genetic programs and refined by distinct mechanisms that couple neural activity to gene expression. How these processes are integrated remains poorly understood. Here, we report that the regulated release of insulin-like peptides (ILPs) during development of the C. elegans nervous system accomplishes such an integration. We find that the p38 MAP kinase PMK-3, which is required for the differentiation of chemosensory BAG neurons, limits an ILP signal that represses expression of a BAG neuron fate. ILPs are released from BAGs themselves in an activity-dependent manner during development, indicating that ILPs constitute an autocrine signal that regulates the differentiation of BAG neurons. Expression of a specialized neuronal fate is, therefore, coordinately regulated by a genetic program that sets levels of ILP expression during development and by neural activity, which regulates ILP release. Autocrine signals of this kind might have general and conserved functions as integrators of deterministic genetic programs with activity-dependent mechanisms during neurodevelopment.
PMID: 31628111
ISSN: 1477-9129
CID: 4140802

Proneural factors Ascl1 and Neurog2 contribute to neuronal subtype identities by establishing distinct chromatin landscapes

Aydin, Begüm; Kakumanu, Akshay; Rossillo, Mary; Moreno-Estellés, Mireia; Garipler, Görkem; Ringstad, Niels; Flames, Nuria; Mahony, Shaun; Mazzoni, Esteban O
Developmental programs that generate the astonishing neuronal diversity of the nervous system are not completely understood and thus present a major challenge for clinical applications of guided cell differentiation strategies. Using direct neuronal programming of embryonic stem cells, we found that two main vertebrate proneural factors, Ascl1 and neurogenin 2 (Neurog2), induce different neuronal fates by binding to largely different sets of genomic sites. Their divergent binding patterns are not determined by the previous chromatin state, but are distinguished by enrichment of specific E-box sequences that reflect the binding preferences of the DNA-binding domains. The divergent Ascl1 and Neurog2 binding patterns result in distinct chromatin accessibility and enhancer activity profiles that differentially shape the binding of downstream transcription factors during neuronal differentiation. This study provides a mechanistic understanding of how transcription factors constrain terminal cell fates, and it delineates the importance of choosing the right proneural factor in neuronal reprogramming strategies.
PMID: 31086315
ISSN: 1546-1726
CID: 3900972

Lineage context switches the function of a C. elegans Pax6 homolog in determining a neuronal fate

Brandt, Julia P; Rossillo, Mary; Zhuo, Du; Ichikawa, David; Barnes, Kristopher; Chen, Allison; Noyes, Marcus; Bao, Zhirong; Ringstad, Niels
The sensory nervous system of C. elegans comprises cells with varied molecular and functional characteristics and is, therefore, a powerful model for understanding mechanisms that generate neuronal diversity. We report here that VAB-3, a C. elegans homolog of the homeodomain-containing protein Pax6, has opposing functions in regulating expression of a specific chemosensory fate. A homeodomain-only short isoform of VAB-3 is expressed in BAG chemosensory neurons, where it promotes gene expression and cell function. In other cells, a long isoform of VAB-3 comprised of a Paired homology domain and a homeodomain represses expression of ETS-5, a transcription factor required for expression of BAG fate. Repression of ets-5 requires the Eyes Absent homolog EYA-1 and the Six-class homeodomain protein CEH-32. We determined sequences that mediate high-affinity binding of ETS-5, VAB-3, and CEH-32. The ets-5 locus is enriched for ETS-5-binding sites but lacks sequences that bind VAB-3 and CEH-32, suggesting that these factors do not directly repress ets-5 expression. We propose that a promoter-selection system together with lineage-specific expression of accessory factors allows VAB-3/Pax6 to either promote or repress expression of specific cell fates in a context-dependent manner.
PMID: 30890567
ISSN: 1477-9129
CID: 3735072

The people behind the papers

Brandt, J; Rossillo, M; Ringstad, N
A fundamental aim in developmental biology is to understand how the various cell types of the body are specified by differential gene regulation. Caenorhabditis elegans nervous system development provides a powerful system for studying this, as exemplified by a new Development paper reporting on how the BAG neurons that help the worm sense oxygen and carbon dioxide are specified. We caught up with first authors Julia Brandt and Mary Rossillo and their supervisor Niels Ringstad (Associate Professor at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine and Department of Cell Biology at New York University) to find out more about the story.
ISSN: 0950-1991
CID: 3903632

Mass Spectrometric Evidence for Neuropeptide-Amidating Enzymes inC. elegans

Van Bael, Sven; Watteyne, Jan; Boonen, Kurt; De Haes, Wouter; Menschaert, Gerben; Ringstad, Niels; Horvitz, H Robert; Schoofs, Liliane; Husson, Steven; Temmerman, Liesbet
Neuropeptides constitute a vast and functionally diverse family of neurochemical signaling molecules, and are widely involved in the regulation of various physiological processes. The nematode C. elegans is well-suited for the study of neuropeptide biochemistry and function, as neuropeptide biosynthesis enzymes are not essential for C. elegans viability. This permits the study of neuropeptide biosynthesis in mutants lacking certain neuropeptide-processing enzymes. Mass spectrometry has been used to study the effects of proprotein convertase and carboxypeptidase mutations on proteolytic processing of neuropeptide precursors and on the peptidome in C. elegans. However, the enzymes required for the last step in the production of many bioactive peptides - the carboxyterminal amidation reaction - have not been characterized in this manner. Here, we describe three genes that encode homologs of neuropeptide amidation enzymes in C. elegans and used tandem LC-MS to compare neuropeptides in wild-type animals with those in newly generated mutants for these putative amidation enzymes. We report that mutants lacking both a functional peptidylglycine α-hydroxylating monooxygenase (PHM) and a peptidylglycine α-amidating monooxygenase (PAM) had a severely altered neuropeptide profile and also a decreased number of offspring. Interestingly, single mutants of the amidation enzymes still expressed some fully processed amidated neuropeptides, indicating the existence of a redundant amidation mechanism in C. elegans. All MS data is available via ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD008942. In summary, the key steps in neuropeptide-processing in C. elegans seem to be executed by redundant enzymes, and loss of these enzymes severely affects brood size, supporting the need of amidated peptides for C. elegans reproduction.
PMID: 29487130
ISSN: 1083-351x
CID: 2965892

Antagonistic regulation of trafficking to Caenorhabditis elegans sensory cilia by a Retinal Degeneration 3 homolog and retromer

Martínez-Velázquez, Luis A; Ringstad, Niels
Sensory neurons often possess cilia with elaborate membrane structures that are adapted to the sensory modality of the host cell. Mechanisms that target sensory transduction proteins to these specialized membrane domains remain poorly understood. Here, we show that a homolog of the human retinal dystrophy gene Retinal Degeneration 3 (RD3) is a Golgi-associated protein required for efficient trafficking of a sensory receptor, the receptor-type guanylate cyclase GCY-9, to cilia in chemosensory neurons of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans The trafficking defect caused by mutation of the nematode RD3 homolog is suppressed in vivo by mutation of key components of the retromer complex, which mediates recycling of cargo from endosomes to the Golgi. Our data show that there exists a critical balance in sensory neurons between the rates of anterograde and retrograde trafficking of cargo destined for the sensory cilium and this balance requires molecular specialization at an early stage of the secretory pathway.
PMID: 29282322
ISSN: 1091-6490
CID: 2895852