Intact Drosophila central nervous system cellular quantitation reveals sexual dimorphism

Elife. 2022 Jul 8:11:e74968. doi: 10.7554/eLife.74968.


Establishing with precision the quantity and identity of the cell types of the brain is a prerequisite for a detailed compendium of gene and protein expression in the central nervous system (CNS). Currently, however, strict quantitation of cell numbers has been achieved only for the nervous system of Caenorhabditis elegans. Here, we describe the development of a synergistic pipeline of molecular genetic, imaging, and computational technologies designed to allow high-throughput, precise quantitation with cellular resolution of reporters of gene expression in intact whole tissues with complex cellular constitutions such as the brain. We have deployed the approach to determine with exactitude the number of functional neurons and glia in the entire intact larval Drosophila CNS, revealing fewer neurons and more glial cells than previously predicted. We also discover an unexpected divergence between the sexes at this juvenile developmental stage, with the female CNS having significantly more neurons than that of males. Topological analysis of our data establishes that this sexual dimorphism extends to deeper features of CNS organisation. We additionally extended our analysis to quantitate the expression of voltage-gated potassium channel family genes throughout the CNS and uncover substantial differences in abundance. Our methodology enables robust and accurate quantification of the number and positioning of cells within intact organs, facilitating sophisticated analysis of cellular identity, diversity, and gene expression characteristics.

Keywords: CNS quantitation; D. melanogaster; cell biology; glia; neuron; neuroscience; potassium channels; sexual dimorphism; topological data analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Drosophila Proteins* / metabolism
  • Drosophila* / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Neuroglia
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Drosophila Proteins