Publications

Key Publications

A genetically encoded biosensor for visualizing hypoxia responses in vivo

By: Misra T, Baccino-Calace M, Meyenhofer F, Rodriguez-Crespo D, Akarsu H, Armenta-Calderon R, Gorr TA, Frei C, Cantera R, Egger B, Luschnig S

Biology Open |
Abstract

Cells experience different oxygen concentrations depending on location, organismal developmental stage, and physiological or pathological conditions. Responses to reduced oxygen levels (hypoxia) rely on the conserved Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1 (HIF-1). Understanding the developmental and tissue-specific responses to changing oxygen levels has been limited by the lack of adequate tools for monitoring HIF-1 in vivo. To visualise and analyse HIF-1 dynamics in Drosophila, we used a hypoxia biosensor consisting of GFP fused to the oxygen-dependent degradation domain (ODD) of the HIF-1 homologue Sima. GFP-ODD responds to changing oxygen levels and to genetic manipulations of the hypoxia pathway, reflecting oxygen-dependent regulation of HIF-1 at the single-cell level. Ratiometric imaging of GFP-ODD and a red-fluorescent reference protein reveals tissue-specific differences in the cellular hypoxic status at ambient normoxia. Strikingly, cells in the larval brain show distinct hypoxic states that correlate with the distribution and relative densities of respiratory tubes. We present a set of genetic and image analysis tools that enable new approaches to map hypoxic microenvironments, to probe effects of perturbations on hypoxic signalling, and to identify new regulators of the hypoxia response.

Staccato/Unc-13-4 controls secretory lysosome-mediated lumen fusion during epithelial tube anastomosis

By: Caviglia S, Fischer EJ, Brankatschk M, Eaton S, Luschnig S

Nature Cell Biology | | Volume: 18 | Issue: 7 | 1-26 |
Abstract

A crucial yet ill-defined step during the development of tubular networks, such as the vasculature, is the formation of connections (anastomoses) between pre-existing lumenized tubes. By studying tracheal tube anastomosis in Drosophila melanogaster, we uncovered a key role of secretory lysosome-related organelle (LRO) trafficking in lumen fusion. We identified the conserved calcium-binding protein Unc-13-4/Staccato (Stac) and the GTPase Rab39 as critical regulators of this process. Stac and Rab39 accumulate on dynamic vesicles, which form exclusively in fusion tip cells, move in a dynein-dependent manner, and contain late-endosomal, lysosomal, and SNARE components characteristic of LROs. The GTPase Arl3 is necessary and sufficient for Stac LRO formation and promotes Stac-dependent intracellular fusion of juxtaposed apical plasma membranes, thereby forming a transcellular lumen. Concomitantly, calcium is released locally from ER exit sites and apical membrane-associated calcium increases. We propose that calcium-dependent focused activation of LRO exocytosis restricts lumen fusion to appropriate domains within tip cells.

The triple-repeat protein Anakonda controls epithelial tricellular junction formation in Drosophila

By: Byri S, Misra T, Syed ZA, Bätz T, Shah J, Boril L, Glashauser J, Aegerter-Wilmsen T, Matzat T, Moussian B, Uv A, Luschnig S

Developmental Cell | | Volume: 33 | Issue: 5 | 535-48 |
Abstract

In epithelia, specialized tricellular junctions (TCJs) mediate cell contacts at three-cell vertices. TCJs are fundamental to epithelial biology and disease, but only a few TCJ components are known, and how they assemble at tricellular vertices is not understood. Here we describe a transmembrane protein, Anakonda (Aka), which localizes to TCJs and is essential for the formation of tricellular, but not bicellular, junctions in Drosophila. Loss of Aka causes epithelial barrier defects associated with irregular TCJ structure and geometry, suggesting that Aka organizes cell corners. Aka is necessary and sufficient for accumulation of Gliotactin at TCJs, suggesting that Aka initiates TCJ assembly by recruiting other proteins to tricellular vertices. Aka's extracellular domain has an unusual tripartite repeat structure that may mediate self-assembly, directed by the geometry of tricellular vertices. Conversely, Aka's cytoplasmic tail is dispensable for TCJ localization. Thus, extracellular interactions, rather than TCJ-directed intracellular transport, appear to mediate TCJ assembly.

Src42A-dependent polarized cell shape changes mediate epithelial tube elongation in Drosophila

By: Förster D, Luschnig S

Nature Cell Biology | | Volume: 14 | Issue: 5 | 526-34 |
Abstract

Although many organ functions rely on epithelial tubes with correct dimensions, mechanisms underlying tube size control are poorly understood. We analyse the cellular mechanism of tracheal tube elongation in Drosophila, and describe an essential role of the conserved tyrosine kinase Src42A in this process. We show that Src42A is required for polarized cell shape changes and cell rearrangements that mediate tube elongation. In contrast, diametric expansion is controlled by apical secretion independently of Src42A. Constitutive activation of Src42A induces axial cell stretching and tracheal overelongation, indicating that Src42A acts instructively in this process. We propose that Src42A-dependent recycling of E-Cadherin at adherens junctions is limiting for cell shape changes and rearrangements in the axial dimension of the tube. Thus, we define distinct cellular processes that independently control axial and diametric expansion of a cylindrical epithelium in a developing organ. Whereas exocytosis-dependent membrane growth drives circumferential tube expansion, Src42A is required to orient membrane growth in the axial dimension of the tube.

Sec24-dependent secretion drives cell-autonomous expansion of tracheal tubes in Drosophila

By: Förster D, Armbruster K, Luschnig S

Current Biology | | Volume: 20 | Issue: 1 | 62-68 |
Abstract

Epithelial tubes in developing organs, such as mammalian lungs and insect tracheae, need to expand their initially narrow lumina to attain their final, functional dimensions. Despite its critical role for organ function, the cellular mechanism of tube expansion remains unclear. Tracheal tube expansion in Drosophila involves apical secretion and deposition of a luminal matrix, but the mechanistic role of secretion and the nature of forces involved in the process were not previously clear. Here we address the roles of cell-intrinsic and extrinsic processes in tracheal tube expansion. We identify mutations in the sec24 gene stenosis, encoding a cargo-binding subunit of the COPII complex. Via genetic-mosaic analyses, we show that stenosis-dependent secretion drives tube expansion in a cell-autonomous fashion. Strikingly, single cells autonomously adjust both tube diameter and length by implementing a sequence of events including apical membrane growth, cell flattening, and taenidial cuticle formation. Known luminal components are not required for this process. Thus, a cell-intrinsic program, rather than nonautonomous extrinsic cues, controls the dimensions of tracheal tubes. These results indicate a critical role of membrane-associated proteins in the process and imply a mechanism that coordinates autonomous behaviors of individual cells within epithelial structures.


 

All Publications

2017

Rabs on the fly: Functions of Rab GTPases during development

By: Caviglia S, Flores-Benitez, David, Lattner, Johanna, Luschnig S

Small GTPases |
Abstract

The organization of intracellular transport processes is adapted specifically to different cell types, developmental stages, and physiologic requirements. Some protein traffic routes are universal to all cells and constitutively active, while other routes are cell-type specific, transient, and induced under particular conditions only. Small GTPases of the Rab (Ras related in brain) subfamily are conserved across eukaryotes and regulate most intracellular transit pathways. The complete sets of Rab proteins have been identified in model organisms, and molecular principles underlying Rab functions have been uncovered. Rabs provide intracellular landmarks that define intracellular
transport sequences. Nevertheless, it remains a challenge to systematically map the subcellular
distribution of all Rabs and their functional interrelations. This task requires novel tools to precisely describe and manipulate the Rab machinery in vivo. Here we discuss recent findings about Rab roles during development and we consider novel approaches to investigate Rab functions in vivo.

Faithful mRNA splicing depends on the Prp19 complex subunit faint sausage and is required for tracheal branching morphogenesis in Drosophila.

By: Sauerwald J, Soneson C, Robinson MD, Luschnig S

Development |
Abstract

Morphogenesis requires the dynamic regulation of gene expression, including transcription, mRNA maturation and translation. Dysfunction of the general mRNA splicing machinery can cause surprisingly specific cellular phenotypes, but the basis for these effects is not clear. Here we show that the Drosophila faint sausage (fas) locus, implicated in epithelial morphogenesis and previously reported to encode a secreted immunoglobulin domain protein, in fact encodes a subunit of the spliceosome-activating Prp19 complex, which is essential for efficient pre-mRNA splicing. Loss of zygotic fas function globally impairs the efficiency of splicing, and is associated with widespread retention of introns in mRNAs and dramatic changes in gene expression. Surprisingly, despite these general effects, zygotic fas mutants show specific defects in tracheal cell migration during mid-embryogenesis when maternally supplied splicing factors have declined. We propose that tracheal branching, which relies on dynamic changes in gene expression, is particularly sensitive for efficient spliceosome function. Our results reveal an entry point to study requirements of the splicing machinery during organogenesis and provide a better understanding of disease phenotypes associated with mutations in general splicing factors.

2016

A genetically encoded biosensor for visualizing hypoxia responses in vivo

By: Misra T, Baccino-Calace M, Meyenhofer F, Rodriguez-Crespo D, Akarsu H, Armenta-Calderon R, Gorr TA, Frei C, Cantera R, Egger B, Luschnig S

Biology Open
Abstract

Cells experience different oxygen concentrations depending on location, organismal developmental stage, and physiological or pathological conditions. Responses to reduced oxygen levels (hypoxia) rely on the conserved Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1 (HIF-1). Understanding the developmental and tissue-specific responses to changing oxygen levels has been limited by the lack of adequate tools for monitoring HIF-1 in vivo. To visualise and analyse HIF-1 dynamics in Drosophila, we used a hypoxia biosensor consisting of GFP fused to the oxygen-dependent degradation domain (ODD) of the HIF-1 homologue Sima. GFP-ODD responds to changing oxygen levels and to genetic manipulations of the hypoxia pathway, reflecting oxygen-dependent regulation of HIF-1 at the single-cell level. Ratiometric imaging of GFP-ODD and a red-fluorescent reference protein reveals tissue-specific differences in the cellular hypoxic status at ambient normoxia. Strikingly, cells in the larval brain show distinct hypoxic states that correlate with the distribution and relative densities of respiratory tubes. We present a set of genetic and image analysis tools that enable new approaches to map hypoxic microenvironments, to probe effects of perturbations on hypoxic signalling, and to identify new regulators of the hypoxia response.

Staccato/Unc-13-4 controls secretory lysosome-mediated lumen fusion during epithelial tube anastomosis

By: Caviglia S, Fischer EJ, Brankatschk M, Eaton S, Luschnig S

Nature Cell Biology | Volume: 18 | Issue: 7 | 1-26 |
Abstract

A crucial yet ill-defined step during the development of tubular networks, such as the vasculature, is the formation of connections (anastomoses) between pre-existing lumenized tubes. By studying tracheal tube anastomosis in Drosophila melanogaster, we uncovered a key role of secretory lysosome-related organelle (LRO) trafficking in lumen fusion. We identified the conserved calcium-binding protein Unc-13-4/Staccato (Stac) and the GTPase Rab39 as critical regulators of this process. Stac and Rab39 accumulate on dynamic vesicles, which form exclusively in fusion tip cells, move in a dynein-dependent manner, and contain late-endosomal, lysosomal, and SNARE components characteristic of LROs. The GTPase Arl3 is necessary and sufficient for Stac LRO formation and promotes Stac-dependent intracellular fusion of juxtaposed apical plasma membranes, thereby forming a transcellular lumen. Concomitantly, calcium is released locally from ER exit sites and apical membrane-associated calcium increases. We propose that calcium-dependent focused activation of LRO exocytosis restricts lumen fusion to appropriate domains within tip cells.

miR-190 enhances HIF-dependent responses to hypoxia in Drosophila by inhibiting the prolyl-4-hydroxylase Fatiga

By: De Lella Ezcurra AL, Bertolin AP, Kim K, Katz MJ, Gándara L, Misra T, Luschnig S, Perrimon N, Melani M, Wappner P

PLoS Genetics | Volume: 12 | e1006073 |
Abstract

Cellular and systemic responses to low oxygen levels are principally mediated by Hypoxia Inducible Factors (HIFs), a family of evolutionary conserved heterodimeric transcription factors, whose alpha- and beta-subunits belong to the bHLH-PAS family. In normoxia, HIFα is hydroxylated by specific prolyl-4-hydroxylases, targeting it for proteasomal degradation, while in hypoxia the activity of these hydroxylases decreases due to low oxygen availability, leading to HIFα accumulation and expression of HIF target genes. To identify microRNAs required for maximal HIF activity, we conducted an overexpression screen in Drosophila melanogaster, evaluating the induction of a HIF transcriptional reporter. miR-190 overexpression enhanced HIF-dependent biological responses, including terminal sprouting of the tracheal system, while in miR-190 loss of function embryos the hypoxic response was impaired. In hypoxic conditions, miR-190 expression was upregulated and required for induction of HIF target genes by directly inhibiting the HIF prolyl-4-hydroxylase Fatiga. Thus, miR-190 is a novel regulator of the hypoxia response that represses the oxygen sensor Fatiga, leading to HIFα stabilization and enhancement of hypoxic responses.

2015

The triple-repeat protein Anakonda controls epithelial tricellular junction formation in Drosophila

By: Byri S, Misra T, Syed ZA, Bätz T, Shah J, Boril L, Glashauser J, Aegerter-Wilmsen T, Matzat T, Moussian B, Uv A, Luschnig S

Developmental Cell | Volume: 33 | Issue: 5 | 535-48 |
Abstract

In epithelia, specialized tricellular junctions (TCJs) mediate cell contacts at three-cell vertices. TCJs are fundamental to epithelial biology and disease, but only a few TCJ components are known, and how they assemble at tricellular vertices is not understood. Here we describe a transmembrane protein, Anakonda (Aka), which localizes to TCJs and is essential for the formation of tricellular, but not bicellular, junctions in Drosophila. Loss of Aka causes epithelial barrier defects associated with irregular TCJ structure and geometry, suggesting that Aka organizes cell corners. Aka is necessary and sufficient for accumulation of Gliotactin at TCJs, suggesting that Aka initiates TCJ assembly by recruiting other proteins to tricellular vertices. Aka's extracellular domain has an unusual tripartite repeat structure that may mediate self-assembly, directed by the geometry of tricellular vertices. Conversely, Aka's cytoplasmic tail is dispensable for TCJ localization. Thus, extracellular interactions, rather than TCJ-directed intracellular transport, appear to mediate TCJ assembly.

2014

Tube fusion: making connections in branched tubular networks

By: Caviglia S, Luschnig S

Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology | Volume: 31 | 82-90 |
Abstract

Organs like the vertebrate vascular system and the insect tracheal system develop from separate primordia that undergo fusion events to form interconnected tubular networks. Although the correct pattern of tubular connections (anastomoses) in these organs is crucial for their normal function, the cellular and molecular mechanisms that govern tube fusion are only beginning to be understood. The process of tube fusion involves tip cell specification, cell-cell recognition and contact formation, self-avoidance, changes in cell shape and topology, lumen formation, and luminal membrane fusion. Significant insights into the underlying cellular machinery have been provided by genetic studies of tracheal tube fusion in Drosophila. Here, we summarize these findings and we highlight similarities and differences between tube fusion processes in the Drosophila tracheae and in the vertebrate vascular system. We integrate the findings from studies in vivo with the important mechanistic insights that have been gained from the analysis of tubulogenesis in cultured cells to propose a mechanistic model of tube fusion, aspects of which are likely to apply to diverse organs and organisms.

The Macroglobulin complement-related transmembrane protein Mcr is essential for septate junction formation and epithelial barrier function in Drosophila

By: Bätz T, Förster D, Luschnig S

Development | Volume: 141 | Issue: 4 | 899-908 |
Abstract

Occluding cell-cell junctions in epithelia form physical barriers that separate different membrane domains, restrict paracellular diffusion and prevent pathogens from spreading across tissues. In invertebrates, these functions are provided by septate junctions (SJs), the functional equivalent of vertebrate tight junctions. How the diverse functions of SJs are integrated and modulated in a multiprotein complex is not clear, and many SJ components are still unknown. Here we report the identification of Macroglobulin complement-related (Mcr), a member of the conserved α-2-macroglobulin (α2M) complement protein family, as a novel SJ-associated protein in Drosophila. Whereas α2M complement proteins are generally known as secreted factors that bind to surfaces of pathogens and target them for phagocytic uptake, Mcr represents an unusual α2M protein with a predicted transmembrane domain. We show that Mcr protein localizes to lateral membranes of epithelial cells, where its distribution overlaps with SJs. Several SJ components are required for the correct localization of Mcr. Conversely, Mcr is required in a cell-autonomous fashion for the correct membrane localization of SJ components, indicating that membrane-bound rather than secreted Mcr isoforms are involved in SJ formation. Finally, we show that loss of Mcr function leads to morphological, ultrastructural and epithelial barrier defects resembling mutants lacking SJ components. Our results, along with previous findings on the role of Mcr in phagocytosis, suggest that Mcr plays dual roles in epithelial barrier formation and innate immunity. Thus, Mcr represents a novel paradigm for investigating functional links between occluding junction formation and pathogen defense mechanisms.

Luminal matrices: An inside view on organ morphogenesis

By: Luschnig S, Uv A

Experimental Cell Research | Volume: 321 | Issue: 1 | 64-70 |
Abstract

Tubular epithelia come in various shapes and sizes to accommodate the specific needs for transport, excretion and absorption in multicellular organisms. The intestinal tract, glandular organs and conduits for liquids and gases are all lined by a continuous layer of epithelial cells, which form the boundary of the luminal space. Defects in epithelial architecture and lumen dimensions will impair transport and can lead to serious organ malfunctions. Not surprisingly, multiple cellular and molecular mechanisms contribute to the shape of tubular epithelial structures. One intriguing aspect of epithelial organ formation is the highly coordinate behavior of individual cells as they mold the mature lumen. Here, we focus on recent findings, primarily from Drosophila, demonstrating that informative cues can emanate from the developing organ lumen in the form of solid luminal material. The luminal material is produced by the surrounding epithelium and helps to coordinate changes in shape and arrangement of the very same cells, resulting in correct lumen dimensions.

2013

The ETS domain transcriptional repressor Anterior open inhibits MAP Kinase and Wingless signaling to couple tracheal cell fate with branch identity

By: Caviglia S, Luschnig S

Development | Volume: 140 | Issue: 6 | 1240-49 |
Abstract

Cells at the tips of budding branches in the Drosophila tracheal system generate two morphologically different types of seamless tubes. Terminal cells (TCs) form branched lumenized extensions that mediate gas exchange at target tissues, whereas fusion cells (FCs) form ring-like connections between adjacent tracheal metameres. Each tracheal branch contains a specific set of TCs, FCs, or both, but the mechanisms that select between the two tip cell types in a branch-specific fashion are not clear. Here, we show that the ETS domain transcriptional repressor anterior open (aop) is dispensable for directed tracheal cell migration, but plays a key role in tracheal tip cell fate specification. Whereas aop globally inhibits TC and FC specification, MAPK signaling overcomes this inhibition by triggering degradation of Aop in tip cells. Loss of aop function causes excessive FC and TC specification, indicating that without Aop-mediated inhibition, all tracheal cells are competent to adopt a specialized fate. We demonstrate that Aop plays a dual role by inhibiting both MAPK and Wingless signaling, which induce TC and FC fate, respectively. In addition, the branch-specific choice between the two seamless tube types depends on the tracheal branch identity gene spalt major, which is sufficient to inhibit TC specification. Thus, a single repressor, Aop, integrates two different signals to couple tip cell fate selection with branch identity. The switch from a branching towards an anastomosing tip cell type may have evolved with the acquisition of a main tube that connects separate tracheal primordia to generate a tubular network.