Members of the TGF-β superfamily play numerous roles in nervous system development and function. In Drosophila, retrograde BMP signaling at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is required presynaptically for proper synapse growth and neurotransmitter release. In this study, we analyzed whether the Activin branch of the TGF-β superfamily also contributes to NMJ development and function. We find that elimination of the Activin/TGF-β type I receptor babo, or its downstream signal transducer smox, does not affect presynaptic NMJ growth or evoked excitatory junctional potentials (EJPs), but instead results in a number of postsynaptic defects including depolarized membrane potential, small size and frequency of miniature excitatory junction potentials (mEJPs), and decreased synaptic densities of the glutamate receptors GluRIIA and B. The majority of the defective smox synaptic phenotypes were rescued by muscle-specific expression of a smox transgene. Furthermore, a mutation in actβ, an Activin-like ligand that is strongly expressed in motor neurons, phenocopies babo and smox loss-of-function alleles. Our results demonstrate that anterograde Activin/TGF-β signaling at the Drosophila NMJ is crucial for achieving normal abundance and localization of several important postsynaptic signaling molecules and for regulating postsynaptic membrane physiology. Together with the well-established presynaptic role of the retrograde BMP signaling, our findings indicate that the two branches of the TGF-β superfamily are differentially deployed on each side of the Drosophila NMJ synapse to regulate distinct aspects of its development and function.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2014 Kim, O'Connor.