Evaluating the potential for neurodegenerative disease models in juvenile Drosophila melanogaster.
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/12/2100
Ferlito, Valentina Claudia
With 9.9 million new dementia cases each year, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (AD and PD) are the most prevalent form of neurodegenerative disorder (NDG) affecting the aging population. Despite years of pharmaceutical research, no cure is yet available. Most neuropathological aspects of these diseases are extremely complex but the study of the rare genetic cases allowed to model these diseases in animals and uncover key pathophysiological processes. Transgenic Drosophila NDG models have been used for in vivo studies for many years with a range of relevant phenotypes. The cellular and molecular biology of the Central Nervous System, as well as the mechanisms underlying neurodegeneration, are well conserved between Drosophila and Humans (with a 75% of human disease-related genes having homologs in flies). Most NDG studies are performed in the aging flies. However, there are reports of measurable phenotypes for a variety of AD and PD models in juvenile Drosophila melanogaster (larval stage) with an unexploited considerable potential for drug discovery and screening for this outstanding model. Here I sought to develop a new assay for research into NDGs that focus on the earliest phenotypes. During this Ph.D. project a customized crawling assay apparatus was developed, for the assessment of locomotor ability in humanised larval Drosophila (overexpressing human proteins/peptides linked to AD and PD). A locomotor phenotype was identified in larvae overexpressing different variation of Amyloid-β42, tau and α-Synuclein pan neutrally: these animals crawl on agarose surface at a reduced mean speed when compared to controls. The defect was proven partially rescuable by administration of Tacrine and Methylene Blue, renewing the importance of such models for future applications in drug discovery and screening. The motor impairment supports the hypothesis of a neurotoxic effect of the protein/peptide. Thus, to test this further, the overexpression of the human transgenes was restricted to neurons involved in larval olfaction (olfactory impairment is often the earliest symptom in PD and AD) and odour associated learning tasks (both PD and AD are characterized by severe cognitive dysfunction). Interestingly, larvae overexpressing the Amyloid-β42 ARC peptide in the Olfactory Sensory Neurons showed a subtle navigation defect during chemotaxis (in 1-Hexanol odour gradient) that could possibly be addressed to premature neural habituation to the olfactory stimulus. Furthermore, the overexpression of the peptide in the larval Mushroom Bodies influenced the performances of the animals in associative learning tasks. Lastly, using immunohistochemistry and confocal imaging techniques I showed that the gross morphology of neurons is not altered by the targeted overexpression of the Amyloid-β42 ARC. Even though physiological studies are required to characterize the chemosensory/learning defect shown by the Amyloid-β42 ARC larvae, this Ph.D. work further confirms that the effects of the overexpression of the human transgenes are robust and measurable already at larval stage. These findings may also be relevant to the development of new, fast, and cost-effective compound screening procedures, for applications in early stages of the drug discovery process.