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33 Janelia Publications

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    07/11/18 | Evolution of a central neural circuit underlies Drosophila mate preferences.
    Seeholzer LF, Seppo M, Stern DL, Ruta V
    Nature. 2018 Jul 11:. doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0322-9

    Courtship rituals serve to reinforce reproductive barriers between closely related species. Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila simulans exhibit reproductive isolation, owing in part to the fact that D. melanogaster females produce 7,11-heptacosadiene, a pheromone that promotes courtship in D. melanogaster males but suppresses courtship in D. simulans males. Here we compare pheromone-processing pathways in D. melanogaster and D. simulans males to define how these sister species endow 7,11-heptacosadiene with the opposite behavioural valence to underlie species discrimination. We show that males of both species detect 7,11-heptacosadiene using homologous peripheral sensory neurons, but this signal is differentially propagated to P1 neurons, which control courtship behaviour. A change in the balance of excitation and inhibition onto courtship-promoting neurons transforms an excitatory pheromonal cue in D. melanogaster into an inhibitory cue in D. simulans. Our results reveal how species-specific pheromone responses can emerge from conservation of peripheral detection mechanisms and diversification of central circuitry, and demonstrate how flexible nodes in neural circuits can contribute to behavioural evolution.

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    12/09/17 | Optogenetic dissection of descending behavioral control in Drosophila.
    Cande J, Namiki S, Qiu J, Korff W, Card GM, Shaevitz JW, Stern DL, Berman GJ
    eLife. 2018:e34275. doi: 10.7554/eLife.34275

    In most animals, the brain makes behavioral decisions that are transmitted by descending neurons to the nerve cord circuitry that produces behaviors. In insects, only a few descending neurons have been associated with specific behaviors. To explore how descending neurons control an insect's movements, we developed a novel method to systematically assay the behavioral effects of activating individual neurons on freely behaving terrestrial D. melanogaster. We calculated a two-dimensional representation of the entire behavior space explored by these flies and we associated descending neurons with specific behaviors by identifying regions of this space that were visited with increased frequency during optogenetic activation. Applying this approach across a large collection of descending neurons, we found that (1) activation of most of the descending neurons drove stereotyped behaviors, (2) in many cases multiple descending neurons activated similar behaviors, and (3) optogenetically-activated behaviors were often dependent on the behavioral state prior to activation.

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    04/02/18 | Accurate and sensitive quantification of protein-DNA binding affinity.
    Rastogi C, Rube HT, Kribelbauer JF, Crocker J, Loker RE, Martini GD, Laptenko O, Freed-Pastor WA, Prives C, Stern DL, Mann RS, Bussemaker HJ
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2018 Apr 02:. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1714376115

    Transcription factors (TFs) control gene expression by binding to genomic DNA in a sequence-specific manner. Mutations in TF binding sites are increasingly found to be associated with human disease, yet we currently lack robust methods to predict these sites. Here, we developed a versatile maximum likelihood framework named No Read Left Behind (NRLB) that infers a biophysical model of protein-DNA recognition across the full affinity range from a library of in vitro selected DNA binding sites. NRLB predicts human Max homodimer binding in near-perfect agreement with existing low-throughput measurements. It can capture the specificity of the p53 tetramer and distinguish multiple binding modes within a single sample. Additionally, we confirm that newly identified low-affinity enhancer binding sites are functional in vivo, and that their contribution to gene expression matches their predicted affinity. Our results establish a powerful paradigm for identifying protein binding sites and interpreting gene regulatory sequences in eukaryotic genomes.

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    03/13/18 | Comprehensive analysis of a cis-regulatory region reveals pleiotropy in enhancer function.
    Preger-Ben Noon E, Sabarís G, Ortiz DM, Sager J, Liebowitz A, Stern DL, Frankel N
    Cell Reports. 2018 Mar 13;22(11):3021-3031. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.02.073

    Developmental genes can have complex cis-regulatory regions with multiple enhancers. Early work revealed remarkable modularity of enhancers, whereby distinct DNA regions drive gene expression in defined spatiotemporal domains. Nevertheless, a few reports have shown that enhancers function in multiple developmental stages, implying that enhancers can be pleiotropic. Here, we have studied the activity of the enhancers of the shavenbaby gene throughout D. melanogaster development. We found that all seven shavenbaby enhancers drive expression in multiple tissues and developmental stages. We explored how enhancer pleiotropy is encoded in two of these enhancers. In one enhancer, the same transcription factor binding sites contribute to embryonic and pupal expression, revealing site pleiotropy, whereas for a second enhancer, these roles are encoded by distinct sites. Enhancer pleiotropy may be a common feature of cis-regulatory regions of developmental genes, and site pleiotropy may constrain enhancer evolution in some cases.

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    12/01/17 | Editorial overview: Making evolutionary sense of everything.
    Stern DL, Haag E
    Current Opinion in Genetics & Development. 2017 Dec;47:iv-vi. doi: 10.1016/j.gde.2017.11.005
    11/02/17 | Nuclear microenvironments modulate transcription from low-affinity enhancers.
    Tsai A, Muthusamy AK, Alves MR, Lavis LD, Singer RH, Stern DL, Crocker J
    eLife. 2017 Nov 02;6:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.28975

    Transcription factors bind low-affinity DNA sequences for only short durations. It is not clear how brief, low-affinity interactions can drive efficient transcription. Here we report that the transcription factor Ultrabithorax (Ubx) utilizes low-affinity binding sites in the Drosophila melanogastershavenbaby (svb) locus and related enhancers in nuclear microenvironments of high Ubx concentrations. Related enhancers colocalize to the same microenvironments independently of their chromosomal location, suggesting that microenvironments are highly differentiated transcription domains. Manipulating the affinity of svb enhancers revealed an inverse relationship between enhancer affinity and Ubx concentration required for transcriptional activation. The Ubx cofactor, Homothorax (Hth), was co-enriched with Ubx near enhancers that require Hth, even though Ubx and Hth did not co-localize throughout the nucleus. Thus, microenvironments of high local transcription factor and cofactor concentrations could help low-affinity sites overcome their kinetic inefficiency. Mechanisms that generate these microenvironments could be a general feature of eukaryotic transcriptional regulation.

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    08/29/17 | Experimental and statistical reevaluation provides no evidence for Drosophila courtship song rhythms.
    Stern DL, Clemens J, Coen P, Calhoun AJ, Hogenesch JB, Arthur BJ, Murthy M
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2017 Aug 29;114(37):9978-83. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1707471114

    From 1980 to 1992, a series of influential papers reported on the discovery, genetics, and evolution of a periodic cycling of the interval between Drosophila male courtship song pulses. The molecular mechanisms underlying this periodicity were never described. To reinitiate investigation of this phenomenon, we previously performed automated segmentation of songs but failed to detect the proposed rhythm [Arthur BJ, et al. (2013) BMC Biol 11:11; Stern DL (2014) BMC Biol 12:38]. Kyriacou et al. [Kyriacou CP, et al. (2017) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 114:1970-1975] report that we failed to detect song rhythms because (i) our flies did not sing enough and (ii) our segmenter did not identify many of the song pulses. Kyriacou et al. manually annotated a subset of our recordings and reported that two strains displayed rhythms with genotype-specific periodicity, in agreement with their original reports. We cannot replicate this finding and show that the manually annotated data, the original automatically segmented data, and a new dataset provide no evidence for either the existence of song rhythms or song periodicity differences between genotypes. Furthermore, we have reexamined our methods and analysis and find that our automated segmentation method was not biased to prevent detection of putative song periodicity. We conclude that there is no evidence for the existence of Drosophila courtship song rhythms.

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    07/31/17 | Functional regulatory evolution outside of the minimal even-skipped stripe 2 enhancer.
    Crocker J, Stern DL
    Development (Cambridge, England). 2017 Jul 31:. doi: 10.1242/dev.149427

    Transcriptional enhancers are regions of DNA that drive precise patterns of gene expression. While many studies have elucidated how individual enhancers can evolve, most of this work has focused on what are called "minimal" enhancers, the smallest DNA regions that drive expression that approximates an aspect of native gene expression. Here we explore how the Drosophila erecta even-skipped (eve) locus has evolved by testing its activity in the divergent D. melanogaster genome. We found, as has been reported previously, that the D. erecta eve stripe 2 enhancer (eveS2) fails to drive appreciable expression in D. melanogaster (1). However, we found that a large transgene carrying the entire D. erecta eve locus drives normal eve expression, including in stripe 2. We performed a functional dissection of the region upstream of the D. erecta eveS2 region and found multiple Zelda motifs that are required for normal expression. Our results illustrate how sequences outside of minimal enhancer regions can evolve functionally through mechanisms other than changes in transcription factor binding sites that drive patterning.

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    03/09/17 | Genetic and Transgenic Reagents for Drosophila simulans, D. mauritiana, D. yakuba, D. santomea and D. virilis.
    Stern DL, Crocker J, Ding Y, Frankel N, Kappes G, Kim E, Kuzmickas R, Lemire A, Mast JD, Picard S
    G3 (Bethesda, Md.). 2017 Mar 09;7(4):1339-47. doi: 10.1534/g3.116.038885

    Species of the Drosophila melanogaster species subgroup, including the species D. simulans, D. mauritiana, D. yakuba, and D. santomea, have long served as model systems for studying evolution. Studies in these species have been limited, however, by a paucity of genetic and transgenic reagents. Here we describe a collection of transgenic and genetic strains generated to facilitate genetic studies within and between these species. We have generated many strains of each species containing mapped piggyBac transposons including an enhanced yellow fluorescent protein gene expressed in the eyes and a phiC31 attP site-specific integration site. We have tested a subset of these lines for integration efficiency and reporter gene expression levels. We have also generated a smaller collection of other lines expressing other genetically encoded fluorescent molecules in the eyes and a number of other transgenic reagents that will be useful for functional studies in these species. In addition, we have mapped the insertion locations of 58 transposable elements in D. virilis that will be useful for genetic mapping studies.

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    01/03/17 | A fully synthetic transcriptional platform for a multicellular eukaryote.
    Crocker J, Tsai A, Stern DL
    Cell Reports. 2017 Jan 03;18(1):287-296. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2016.12.025

    Regions of genomic DNA called enhancers encode binding sites for transcription factor proteins. Binding of activators and repressors increase and reduce transcription, respectively, but it is not understood how combinations of activators and repressors generate precise patterns of transcription during development. Here, we explore this problem using a fully synthetic transcriptional platform in Drosophila consisting of engineered transcription factor gradients and artificial enhancers. We found that binding sites for a transcription factor that makes DNA accessible are required together with binding sites for transcriptional activators to produce a functional enhancer. Only in this context can changes in the number of activator binding sites mediate quantitative control of transcription. Using an engineered transcriptional repressor gradient, we demonstrate that overlapping repressor and activator binding sites provide more robust repression and sharper expression boundaries than non-overlapping sites. This may explain why this common motif is observed in many developmental enhancers.

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