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30 Janelia Publications

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    12/09/17 | Optogenetic dissection of descending behavioral control in Drosophila.
    Cande J, Berman GJ, Namiki S, Qiu J, Korff W, Card GM, Shaevitz JW, Stern DL
    bioRxiv. 2017 Dec 9:230128. doi: 10.1101/230128

    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 insect behavior, we developed a novel method to systematically assay the behavioral effects of 160 descending neurons in freely behaving terrestrial D. melanogaster using optogenetic activation. We calculated a 2-dimensional representation of the entire behavior space explored by these flies and associated descending neurons with specific behaviors by identifying regions of this space that were visited with increased frequency during optogenetic activation. 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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    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:. 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:. 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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    11/10/16 | Evolved repression overcomes enhancer robustness.
    Preger-Ben Noon E, Davis FP, Stern DL
    Developmental Cell. 2016 Nov 10;39(5):572-84. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2016.10.010

    Biological systems display extraordinary robustness. Robustness of transcriptional enhancers results mainly from clusters of binding sites for the same transcription factor, and it is not clear how robust enhancers can evolve loss of expression through point mutations. Here, we report the high-resolution functional dissection of a robust enhancer of the shavenbaby gene that has contributed to morphological evolution. We found that robustness is encoded by many binding sites for the transcriptional activator Arrowhead and that, during evolution, some of these activator sites were lost, weakening enhancer activity. Complete silencing of enhancer function, however, required evolution of a binding site for the spatially restricted potent repressor Abrupt. These findings illustrate that recruitment of repressor binding sites can overcome enhancer robustness and may minimize pleiotropic consequences of enhancer evolution. Recruitment of repression may be a general mode of evolution to break robust regulatory linkages.

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    09/29/16 | An unsupervised method for quantifying the behavior of interacting individuals.
    Klibaite U, Berman GJ, Cande J, Stern DL
    arXiv. 2016 Sep 29:1609.09345

    Social behaviors involving the interaction of multiple individuals are complex and frequently crucial for an animal's survival. These interactions, ranging across sensory modalities, length scales, and time scales, are often subtle and difficult to quantify. Contextual effects on the frequency of behaviors become even more difficult to quantify when physical interaction between animals interferes with conventional data analysis, e.g. due to visual occlusion. We introduce a method for quantifying behavior in courting fruit flies that combines high-throughput video acquisition and tracking of individuals with recent unsupervised methods for capturing an animal's entire behavioral repertoire. We find behavioral differences in paired and solitary flies of both sexes, identifying specific behaviors that are affected by social and spatial context. Our pipeline allows for a comprehensive description of the interaction between multiple individuals using unsupervised machine learning methods, and will be used to answer questions about the depth of complexity and variance in fruit fly courtship.

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    08/10/16 | Natural courtship song variation caused by an intronic retroelement in an ion channel gene.
    Ding Y, Berrocal A, Morita T, Longden KD, Stern DL
    Nature. 2016 Aug 10:. doi: 10.1038/nature19093

    Animal species display enormous variation for innate behaviours, but little is known about how this diversity arose. Here, using an unbiased genetic approach, we map a courtship song difference between wild isolates of Drosophila simulans and Drosophila mauritiana to a 966 base pair region within the slowpoke (slo) locus, which encodes a calcium-activated potassium channel. Using the reciprocal hemizygosity test, we confirm that slo is the causal locus and resolve the causal mutation to the evolutionarily recent insertion of a retroelement in a slo intron within D. simulans. Targeted deletion of this retroelement reverts the song phenotype and alters slo splicing. Like many ion channel genes, slo is expressed widely in the nervous system and influences a variety of behaviours; slo-null males sing little song with severely disrupted features. By contrast, the natural variant of slo alters a specific component of courtship song, illustrating that regulatory evolution of a highly pleiotropic ion channel gene can cause modular changes in behaviour.

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