Loss of fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene function is the most common cause of inherited mental retardation and autism spectrum disorders, characterized by attention disorder, hyperactivity and disruption of circadian activity cycles. Pursuit of effective intervention strategies requires determining when the FMR1 product (FMRP) is required in the regulation of neuronal circuitry controlling these behaviors. In the well-characterized Drosophila disease model, loss of the highly conserved dFMRP causes circadian arrhythmicity and conspicuous abnormalities in the circadian clock circuitry. Here, a novel Sholl Analysis was used to quantify over-elaborated synaptic architecture in dfmr1-null small ventrolateral neurons (sLN(v)s), a key subset of clock neurons. The transgenic Gene-Switch system was employed to drive conditional neuronal dFMRP expression in the dfmr1-null mutant background in order to dissect temporal requirements within the clock circuit. Introduction of dFMRP during early brain development, including the stages of neurogenesis, neuronal fate specification and early pathfinding, provided no rescue of dfmr1 mutant phenotypes. Similarly, restoring normal dFMRP expression in the adult failed to restore circadian circuit architecture. In sharp contrast, supplying dFMRP during a transient window of very late brain development, wherein synaptogenesis and substantial subsequent synaptic reorganization (e.g. use-dependent pruning) occur, provided strong morphological rescue to reestablish normal sLN(v)s synaptic arbors. We conclude that dFMRP plays a developmentally restricted role in sculpting synaptic architecture in these neurons that cannot be compensated for by later reintroduction of the protein at maturity.
Keywords: Drosophila; FMRP; clock circuit; fragile X syndrome; gene-switch; lateral neuron; pigment dispersing factor; synapse.