Although evolutionary changes must take place in neural connectivity and synaptic architecture as nervous systems become more complex, we lack understanding of the general principles and specific mechanisms by which these changes occur. Previously, we found that morphology of the larval neuromuscular junction (NMJ) varies extensively among different species of Drosophila but is relatively conserved within a species. To identify specific genes as candidates that might underlie phenotypic differences in NMJ morphology among Drosophila species, we performed a genetic analysis on one of two phenotypic variants we found among 20 natural isolates of Drosophila melanogaster. We discovered genetic polymorphisms for both positive and negative regulators of NMJ growth segregating within the variant line. Focusing on one subline, that displayed NMJ overgrowth, we mapped the phenotype to Mob2 [Monopolar spindle (Mps) one binding protein 2)], a gene encoding a Nuclear Dbf2 (Dumbbell formation 2)-Related (NDR) kinase activator. We confirmed this identification by transformation rescue experiments and showed that presynaptic expression of Mob2 is necessary and sufficient to regulate NMJ growth. Mob2 interacts in a dominant, dose-dependent manner with tricornered but not with warts, to cause NMJ overgrowth, suggesting that Mob2 specifically functions in combination with the former NDR kinase to regulate NMJ development. These results demonstrate the feasibility and utility of identifying genetic variants affecting NMJ morphology in natural populations of Drosophila. These variants can lead to discovery of new genes and molecular mechanisms that regulate NMJ development while also providing new information that can advance our understanding of mechanisms that underlie nervous system evolution.
- Received June 11, 2013.
- Accepted August 19, 2013.
- Copyright © 2013 by the Genetics Society of America