Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the leading monogenic cause of autism and intellectual disability. The disease arises through loss of fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP), which normally exhibits peak expression levels in early-use critical periods, and is required for activity-dependent synaptic remodeling during this transient developmental window. FMRP canonically binds mRNA to repress protein translation, with targets that regulate cytoskeleton dynamics, membrane trafficking, and trans-synaptic signaling. We focus here on recent advances emerging in these three areas from the Drosophila disease model. In the well-characterized central brain mushroom body (MB) olfactory learning/memory circuit, FMRP is required for activity-dependent synaptic remodeling of projection neurons innervating the MB calyx, with function tightly restricted to an early-use critical period. FMRP loss is phenocopied by conditional removal of FMRP only during this critical period, and rescued by FMRP conditional expression only during this critical period. Consistent with FXS hyperexcitation, FMRP loss defects are phenocopied by heightened sensory experience and targeted optogenetic hyperexcitation during this critical period. FMRP binds mRNA encoding Drosophila ESCRTIII core component Shrub (human CHMP4 homolog) to restrict Shrub translation in an activity-dependent mechanism only during this same critical period. Shrub mediates endosomal membrane trafficking, and perturbing Shrub expression is known to interfere with neuronal process pruning. Consistently, FMRP loss and Shrub overexpression targeted to projection neurons similarly causes endosomal membrane trafficking defects within synaptic boutons, and genetic reduction of Shrub strikingly rescues Drosophila FXS model defects. In parallel work on the well-characterized giant fiber (GF) circuit, FMRP limits iontophoretic dye loading into central interneurons, demonstrating an FMRP role controlling core neuronal properties through the activity-dependent repression of translation. In the well-characterized Drosophila neuromuscular junction (NMJ) model, developmental synaptogenesis and activity-dependent synaptic remodeling both require extracellular matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzymes interacting with the heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG) glypican dally-like protein (Dlp) to restrict trans-synaptic Wnt signaling, with FXS synaptogenic defects alleviated by both MMP and HSPG reduction. This new mechanistic axis spanning from activity to FMRP to HSPG-dependent MMP regulation modulates activity-dependent synaptogenesis. We discuss future directions for these mechanisms, and intersecting research priorities for FMRP in glial and signaling interactions.
Keywords: Drosophila; critical period; fragile X syndrome; signaling; synapse.