Layman's guide to synapses

How to use fly genetics to address mechanism of synapse formation

This page demonstrates how a simple organism like the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster can be used to improve our general knowledge about genes and mechanisms of synapse formation.

A) Hundred thousands of flies can easily be kept in a number of food vials taking the space of not more than a few trays. Treating these flies with irradiation or certain chemicals leads to significantly increased numbers of random mutations. The essential task is to select (red arrow) those mutant flies which are likely to bear and inherit synaptic defects (e.g. flies displaying impaired movement).

B) Subsequently, synapses of selected flies can be analysed in detail. If synpatic defects are observed, genetic tricks can be used to find out the exact location of the respective mutation within the fly genome.

C) Once the mutation is assigned to a particular gene, this gene can be

analysed in further detail: from the gene sequence the encoded protein can be deduced and classified (here: cell adhesion molecule; for other gene classes see page 5). Various tricks can be used to study, whether this protein is indeed localised at synapses.

D) Using homology criteria (see page 7) similar genes in other animals or humans can be determined. Further analyses in those organisms have to be carried out to test whether the homologous genes are likewise required for synapse formation. They might be related to inherited diseases of patients with neurolocial conditions.


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