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Peptidergic neurons are a group of neuronal cells that synthesize and secrete peptides to regulate a variety of biological processes. To identify genes controlling the development and function of peptidergic neurons, we conducted a screen of 545 splice-trap lines and identified 28 loci that drove expression in peptidergic neurons when crossed to a GFP reporter transgene. Among these lines, an insertion in the alan shepard (shep) gene drove expression specifically in most peptidergic neurons. shep transcripts and SHEP proteins were detected primarily and broadly in the central nervous system (CNS) in embryos, and this expression continued into the adult stage. Loss of shep resulted in late pupal lethality, reduced adult life span, wing expansion defects, uncoordinated adult locomotor activities, rejection of males by virgin females, and reduced neuropil area and reduced levels of multiple presynaptic markers throughout the adult CNS. Examination of the bursicon neurons in shep mutant pharate adults revealed smaller somata and fewer axonal branches and boutons, and all of these cellular phenotypes were fully rescued by expression of the most abundant wild-type shep isoform. In contrast to shep mutant animals at the pharate adult stage, shep mutant larvae displayed normal bursicon neuron morphologies. Similarly, shep mutant adults were uncoordinated and weak, while shep mutant larvae displayed largely, although not entirely, normal locomotor behavior. Thus, shep played an important role in the metamorphic development of many neurons.

  • Received May 15, 2014.
  • Accepted June 5, 2014.
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