Morphogens are secreted molecules that regulate and coordinate major developmental processes, such as cell differentiation and tissue morphogenesis. Depending on the mechanisms of secretion and the nature of their carriers, morphogens act at short and long range. We investigated the paradigmatic long-range activity of Hedgehog (Hh), a well-known morphogen, and its contribution to the growth and patterning of the Drosophila wing imaginal disc. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) contribute to Hh long-range activity; however, the nature, the site, and the mechanisms underlying the biogenesis of these vesicular carriers remain unknown. Here, through the analysis of mutants and a series of Drosophila RNAi-depleted wing imaginal discs using fluorescence and live-imaging electron microscopy, including tomography and 3D reconstruction, we demonstrate that microvilli of the wing imaginal disc epithelium are the site of generation of small EVs that transport Hh across the tissue. Further, we show that the Prominin-like (PromL) protein is critical for microvilli integrity. Together with actin cytoskeleton and membrane phospholipids, PromL maintains microvilli architecture that is essential to promote its secretory function. Importantly, the distribution of Hh to microvilli and its release via these EVs contribute to the proper morphogenesis of the wing imaginal disc. Our results demonstrate that microvilli-derived EVs are carriers for Hh long-range signaling in vivo. By establishing that members of the Prominin protein family are key determinants of microvilli formation and integrity, our findings support the view that microvilli-derived EVs conveying Hh may provide a means for exchanging signaling cues of high significance in tissue development and cancer.
Keywords: Hedgehog; epithelium; extracellular vesicles; microvilli; prominin-like; secretion.
Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier Inc.