Glia engulf degenerating axons during developmental axon pruning

Curr Biol. 2004 Apr 20;14(8):678-84. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2004.03.035.


Developmental axon pruning is widely used in constructing the nervous system. Accordingly, diverse mechanisms are likely employed for various forms of axon pruning. In the Drosophila mushroom bodies (MB), gamma neurons initially extend axon branches into both the dorsal and medial MB axon lobes in larvae. Through a well-orchestrated set of developmental events during metamorphosis, axon branches to both lobes degenerate prior to the formation of adult connections. Here, we analyze ultrastructural changes underlying axon pruning by using a genetically encoded electron microscopic (EM) marker to selectively label gamma neurons. By inhibiting axon pruning in combination with the use of this EM marker, we demonstrate a causal link between observed cellular events and axon pruning. These events include changes in axon ultrastructure, synaptic degeneration, and engulfment of degenerating axon fragments by glia for their subsequent breakdown via the endosomal-lysosomal pathway. Interestingly, glia selectively invade MB axon lobes at the onset of metamorphosis; this increase in cell number is independent of axon fragmentation. Our study reveals a key role for glia in the removal of axon fragments during developmental axon pruning.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Drosophila / physiology*
  • Endocytosis / physiology
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Lysosomes / metabolism
  • Metamorphosis, Biological / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Models, Biological
  • Motor Neurons, Gamma / metabolism*
  • Motor Neurons, Gamma / ultrastructure
  • Mushroom Bodies / innervation*
  • Mushroom Bodies / ultrastructure
  • Nerve Degeneration
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / physiology*