The role of Imp and Syp RBPs in precise neuronal elimination by apoptosis through the regulation of TFs

  1. Institut de Génomique Fonctionnelle de Lyon, ENS de Lyon, CNRS, Univ Lyon 1, 46 Allée d’Italie
  2. Laboratoire Reproduction et Développement des Plantes, Univ Lyon, ENS de Lyon, UCB Lyon 1, CNRS, INRA, Lyon, France


  • Reviewing Editor
    Chris Doe
    Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Oregon, Eugene, United States of America
  • Senior Editor
    Claude Desplan
    New York University, New York, United States of America

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

This study addresses the temporal patterning of a specific Drosophila CNS neuroblast lineage, focusing on its larval development. They find that a temporal cascade, involving the Imp and Syb genes changes the fate of one daughter cell/branch, from glioblast (GB) to programmed cell death (PCD), as well as gates the decommissioning of the NB at the end of neurogenesis.

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):


Guan and colleagues address the question of how a single neuroblast produces a defined number of progeny, and what influences its decommissioning. The focus of the experiments are two well-studied RNA-binding proteins: Imp and Syp. The Authors find that these factors play an important role in determining the number of neurons in their preferred model system of VNC motor neurons coming from a single lineage (LinA/15) by separate functions taking place at specific stages of development of this lineage: influencing the life-span of the LinA neuroblast to control its timely decommissioning and functioning in the Late-born post-mitotic neurons to influence cell death after the appropriate number of progeny is generated. The post-mitotic role of Imp/Syp in regulating programmed-cell death (PCD) is also correlated with a specific code of key transcription factors that are suspected to influence neuronal identity, linking the fate of neuronal survival with its specification. This paper addresses a wide scope of phenotypes related to the same factors, thus providing an intriguing demonstration of how the nervous system is constructed by context-specific changes in key developmental regulators.

The bulk of conclusions drawn by the authors are supported by careful experimental evidence, and the findings are a useful addition to an important topic in developmental neuroscience.


A major strength is the use of a genetic labeling tool that allows the authors to specifically analyze and manipulate one neuronal lineage. This allows for simultaneous study of both the progenitors and post-mitotic progeny. As a result the paper conveys a lot of useful information for this particular neuronal lineage. Furthermore addressing the association of cell fate specification, taking advantage of this lab's extensive prior work in the system, with developmentally-regulated programmed cell-death is an important contribution to the field.
Beyond Imp/Syp, additional characterization of this model system is provided in characterizing a previously unrecognized death of a hemilineage in early-born neurons.


The main observations that distinguish this study from others that have investigated Imp/Syp in the fly nervous system is the role played in late-born post-mitotic neurons to regulate programmed cell-death. This is an important and plausible (based on the presented findings) newly discovered role for these proteins. However the precision of experiments is not particularly strong, which limits the authors claims. The genetic strategy used to manipulate Imp/Syp or the TF code appears to be done throughout the entire lineage, or all neuronal progeny, and not restricted to only the late born cells. Can the authors rule out survival of the early born hemi-lineage normally fated to die? Therefore statements such as this: To further investigate this possibility, we used the MARCM technique to change the TF code
of last-born MNs without affecting the expression of Imp and Syp
should be qualified to specify that the result is obtained by misexpressing these factors throughout the entire lineage.

The authors make an observation that differs from other systems in which Imp/Syp have been studied: that the expression of the two proteins appears to be independent and not influenced by cross-regulation. However there is a lack of investigation as to what effect this may have on how Imp/Syp regulate temporal identity. A key implication of the previously observed cross-regulation in the fly mushroom body is that the ratio of Imp/Syp could change over the life of the NB which would permit different neuronal identities. Without cross-regulation, do the authors still observe a gradient in the expression pattern of time? Because the data is presented with Imp and Syp stained in different brain samples, and without quantification across different stages, this is unclear. The authors use the term 'gradient' but changes in levels of these factors are not evident from the presented data.

Reviewer #3 (Public Review):

This study by Guan and co-workers focuses on a model neuronal lineage in the developing Drosophila nervous system, revealing interesting aspects about: a) the generation of supernumerary cells, later destined for apoptosis; and, b) new insights into the mechanisms that regulate this process. The two RNA-binding proteins, Imp and Syp, are shown to be expressed in temporally largely complementary patterns, their expression defining early vs later born neurons in this lineage, and thus also regulating the apoptotic elimination. Moreover, neuronal 'fate' transcription factors that are downstream of Imp and signatures of early-born neurons, can also be sufficient to convert later born cells to an earlier 'fate', including survival.

The authors provide solid evidence for most of their statements, including the temporal windows during which the early and the later-born motoneurons are generated by this model lineage, how this relates to patterns of cell death by apoptosis and that mis-expression of early-born transcription factors in later-born cells can be sufficient to block apoptosis (part of, and perhaps indicative of the late-born identity).

Other studies have previously outlined analogous, mutually antagonistic roles for Imp and Syp during nervous system development in Drosophila, in different parts and at different stages, with which the working model of this study aligns.

Overall, this study adds to and extends current working models and evidence on the developmental mechanisms that underlie temporal cell fate decisions.

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  2. Wellcome Trust
  3. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  4. Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation