Engrailed alters the specificity of synaptic connections of Drosophila auditory neurons with the giant fiber

J Neurosci. 2014 Aug 27;34(35):11691-704. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1939-14.2014.


We show that a subset of sound-detecting Johnston's Organ neurons (JONs) in Drosophila melanogaster, which express the transcription factors Engrailed (En) and Invected (Inv), form mixed electrical and chemical synaptic inputs onto the giant fiber (GF) dendrite. These synaptic connections are detected by trans-synaptic Neurobiotin (NB) transfer and by colocalization of Bruchpilot-short puncta. We then show that misexpressing En postmitotically in a second subset of sound-responsive JONs causes them to form ectopic electrical and chemical synapses with the GF, in turn causing that postsynaptic neuron to redistribute its dendritic branches into the vicinity of these afferents. We also introduce a simple electrophysiological recording paradigm for quantifying the presynaptic and postsynaptic electrical activity at this synapse, by measuring the extracellular sound-evoked potentials (SEPs) from the antennal nerve while monitoring the likelihood of the GF firing an action potential in response to simultaneous subthreshold sound and voltage stimuli. Ectopic presynaptic expression of En strengthens the synaptic connection, consistent with there being more synaptic contacts formed. Finally, RNAi-mediated knockdown of En and Inv in postmitotic neurons reduces SEP amplitude but also reduces synaptic strength at the JON-GF synapse. Overall, these results suggest that En and Inv in JONs regulate both neuronal excitability and synaptic connectivity.

Keywords: Drosophila; gap junctions; giant fiber system; mechanosensory; synapses; transcription factor.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Auditory Pathways / metabolism*
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • En protein, Drosophila
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Transcription Factors