Background: The neuromuscular system of the Drosophila larva contains a small number of identified motor neurons that make genetically defined synaptic connections with muscle fibers. We drove high-level expression of genes in these motor neurons by crossing 2293 GAL4-driven EP element lines with known insertion site sequences to lines containing a pan-neuronal GAL4 source and UAS-green fluorescent protein elements. This allowed visualization of every synapse in the neuromuscular system in live larvae.
Results: We identified 114 EPs that generate axon guidance and/or synaptogenesis phenotypes in F1 EP x driver larvae. Analysis of genomic regions adjacent to these EPs defined 76 genes that exhibit neuromuscular gain-of-function phenotypes. Forty-one of these (known genes) have published mutant alleles; the other 35 (new genes) have not yet been characterized genetically. To assess the roles of the known genes, we surveyed published data on their phenotypes and expression patterns. We also examined loss-of-function mutants ourselves, identifying new guidance and synaptogenesis phenotypes for eight genes. At least three quarters of the known genes are important for nervous system development and/or function in wild-type flies.
Conclusions: Known genes, new genes, and a set of previously analyzed genes with phenotypes in the Adh region display similar patterns of homology to sequences in other species and have equivalent EST representations. We infer from these results that most new genes will also have nervous system loss-of-function phenotypes. The proteins encoded by the 76 identified genes include GTPase regulators, vesicle trafficking proteins, kinases, and RNA binding proteins.