Visualization of neuropeptide expression, transport, and exocytosis in Drosophila melanogaster

J Neurobiol. 2001 Nov 15;49(3):159-72. doi: 10.1002/neu.1072.


Neuropeptides affect an extremely diverse set of physiological processes. Neuropeptides are often coreleased with neurotransmitters but, unlike neurotransmitters, the neuropeptide target cells may be distant from the site(s) of secretion. Thus, it is often difficult to measure the amount of neuropeptide release in vivo by electrophysiological methods. Here we establish an in vivo system for studying the developmental expression, processing, transport, and release of neuropeptides. A GFP-tagged atrial natriuretic factor fusion (preproANF-EMD) was expressed in the Drosophila nervous system with the panneural promoter, elav. During embryonic development, proANF-EMD was first seen to accumulate in synaptic regions of the CNS in stage 17 embryos. By the third instar larval stage, highly fluorescent neurons were evident throughout the CNS. In the adult, fluorescence was pronounced in the mushroom bodies, antennal lobe, and the central complex. At the larval neuromuscular junction, proANF-EMD was concentrated in nerve terminals. We compared the release of proANF-EMD from synaptic boutons of NMJ 6/7, which contain almost exclusively glutamate-containing clear vesicles, to those of NMJ 12, which include the peptidergic type III boutons. Upon depolarization, approximately 60% of the tagged neuropeptide was released from NMJs of both muscles in 15 min, as assayed by decreased fluorescence. Although the elav promoter was equally active in the motor neurons that innervate both NMJs 6/7 and 12, NMJ 12 contained 46-fold more neuropeptide and released much more proANF-EMD during stimulation than did NMJ 6/7. Our results suggest that peptidergic neurons have an enhanced ability to accumulate and/or release neuropeptides as compared to neurons that primarily release classical neurotransmitters.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atrial Natriuretic Factor / metabolism
  • Axons / physiology
  • Blotting, Western
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Exocytosis / genetics
  • Exocytosis / physiology*
  • Genotype
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Larva
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Neuropeptides / biosynthesis*
  • Neuropeptides / genetics
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism
  • Plasmids / genetics
  • Presynaptic Terminals / physiology
  • Protein Precursors / metabolism
  • Protein Transport


  • Neuropeptides
  • Protein Precursors
  • Atrial Natriuretic Factor