Phagocytic glia are obligatory intermediates in transmission of mutant huntingtin aggregates across neuronal synapses

Elife. 2020 May 28;9:e58499. doi: 10.7554/eLife.58499.


Emerging evidence supports the hypothesis that pathogenic protein aggregates associated with neurodegenerative diseases spread from cell to cell through the brain in a manner akin to infectious prions. Here, we show that mutant huntingtin (mHtt) aggregates associated with Huntington disease transfer anterogradely from presynaptic to postsynaptic neurons in the adult Drosophila olfactory system. Trans-synaptic transmission of mHtt aggregates is inversely correlated with neuronal activity and blocked by inhibiting caspases in presynaptic neurons, implicating synaptic dysfunction and cell death in aggregate spreading. Remarkably, mHtt aggregate transmission across synapses requires the glial scavenger receptor Draper and involves a transient visit to the glial cytoplasm, indicating that phagocytic glia act as obligatory intermediates in aggregate spreading between synaptically-connected neurons. These findings expand our understanding of phagocytic glia as double-edged players in neurodegeneration-by clearing neurotoxic protein aggregates, but also providing an opportunity for prion-like seeds to evade phagolysosomal degradation and propagate further in the brain.

Keywords: D. melanogaster; Draper; cell biology; huntingtin; neurodegeneration; neuroscience; phagocytic glia; prion-like; protein aggregate.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Drosophila / metabolism
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Huntingtin Protein / genetics
  • Huntingtin Protein / metabolism*
  • Huntington Disease / genetics
  • Huntington Disease / metabolism
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Neuroglia / metabolism*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Phagocytes / metabolism*
  • Phagosomes / genetics
  • Phagosomes / metabolism
  • Protein Aggregates
  • Synapses / metabolism*


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • HTT protein, human
  • Huntingtin Protein
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protein Aggregates
  • drpr protein, Drosophila