Drosophila glia use a conserved cotransporter mechanism to regulate extracellular volume

Glia. 2011 Feb;59(2):320-32. doi: 10.1002/glia.21103.


The nervous system is protected by blood barriers that use multiple systems to control extracellular solute composition, osmotic pressure, and fluid volume. In the human nervous system, misregulation of the extracellular volume poses serious health threats. Here, we show that the glial cells that form the Drosophila blood-nerve barrier have a conserved molecular mechanism that regulates extracellular volume: the Serine/Threonine kinase Fray, which we previously showed is an ortholog of mammalian PASK/SPAK; and the Na-K-Cl cotransporter Ncc69, which we show is an ortholog of human NKCC1. In mammals, PASK/SPAK binds to NKCC1 and regulates its activity. In Drosophila, larvae mutant for Ncc69 develop a peripheral neuropathy, where fluid accumulates between glia and axons. The accumulation of fluid has no detectable impact on action potential conduction, suggesting that the role of Ncc69 is to maintain volume or osmotic homeostasis. Drosophila Ncc69 has kinetics similar to human NKCC1, and NKCC1 can rescue Ncc69, suggesting that they function in a conserved physiological mechanism. We show that fray and Ncc69 are coexpressed in nerve glia, interact in a yeast-two-hybrid assay, and have an essentially identical bulging nerve phenotype. We propose that normally functioning nerves generate extracellular solutes that are removed by Ncc69 under the control of Fray. This mechanism may perform a similar role in humans, given that NKCC1 is expressed at the blood-brain barrier.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Blood-Nerve Barrier / cytology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Drosophila / anatomy & histology
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Space / physiology*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Larva
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission / methods
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Neural Conduction / genetics
  • Neuroglia / cytology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Peripheral Nerves / cytology
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Symporters / genetics
  • Symporters / metabolism*
  • Two-Hybrid System Techniques


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Symporters
  • potassium-chloride symporters
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • fray protein, Drosophila