Adult stem cells reside in specialized microenvironments, or niches, that are essential for their function in vivo. Stem cells are physically attached to the niche, which provides secreted factors that promote their self-renewal and proliferation. Despite intense research on the role of the niche in regulating stem cell function, much less is known about how the niche itself is controlled. We previously showed that insulin signals directly stimulate germline stem cell (GSC) division and indirectly promote GSC maintenance via the niche in Drosophila. Insulin-like peptides are required for maintenance of cap cells (a major component of the niche) via modulation of Notch signaling, and they also control attachment of GSCs to cap cells and E-cadherin levels at the cap cell-GSC junction. Here, we further dissect the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying these processes. We show that insulin and Notch ligands directly stimulate cap cells to maintain their numbers and indirectly promote GSC maintenance. We also report that insulin signaling, via phosphoinositide 3-kinase and FOXO, intrinsically controls the competence of cap cells to respond to Notch ligands and thereby be maintained. Contrary to a previous report, we also find that Notch ligands originated in GSCs are not required either for Notch activation in the GSC niche, or for cap cell or GSC maintenance. Instead, the niche itself produces ligands that activate Notch signaling within cap cells, promoting stability of the GSC niche. Finally, insulin signals control cap cell-GSC attachment independently of their role in Notch signaling. These results are potentially relevant to many systems in which Notch signaling modulates stem cells and demonstrate that complex interactions between local and systemic signals are required for proper stem cell niche function.
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