Single-cell analysis of Drosophila larval neuromuscular synapses

Dev Biol. 2001 Jan 1;229(1):55-70. doi: 10.1006/dbio.2000.9983.


The neuromuscular system of Drosophila has been widely used in studies on synaptic development. In the embryo, the cellular components of this model system are well established, with uniquely identified motoneurons displaying specific connectivity with distinct muscles. Such knowledge is essential to analyzing axon guidance and synaptic matching mechanisms with single-cell resolution. In contrast, to date the cellular identities of the larval neuromuscular synapses are hardly established. It is not known whether synaptic connections seen in the embryo persist, nor is it known how individual motor endings may differentiate through the larval stages. In this study, we combine single-cell dye labeling of individual synaptic boutons and counterstaining of the entire nervous system to characterize the synaptic partners and bouton differentiation of the 30 motoneuron axons from four nerve branches (ISN, SNa, SNb, and SNd). We also show the cell body locations of 4 larval motoneurons (RP3, RP5, V, and MN13-Ib) and the types of innervation they develop. Our observations support the following: (1) Only 1 motoneuron axon of a given bouton type innervates a single muscle, while up to 4 motoneuron axons of different bouton types can innervate the same muscle. (2) The type of boutons which each motoneuron axon forms is likely influenced by cell-autonomous factors. The data offer a basis for studying the properties of synaptic differentiation, maintenance, and plasticity with a high cellular resolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Drosophila / embryology*
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Larva
  • Microinjections
  • Motor Neurons / cytology*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / cytology
  • Neuromuscular Junction / embryology*
  • Synaptic Transmission