Verprolin 1: Biological Overview | Evolutionary Homologs | Regulation | Developmental Biology | Effects of Mutation | References
Gene name - Verprolin 1

Synonyms - D-WIP

Cytological map position-58B8-58B9

Function - signaling

Keywords - mesoderm, facilitator of myoblast fusion, actin filament organization, regulation of cell shape

Symbol - Vrp1

FlyBase ID: FBgn0243516

Genetic map position -2R: 17,994,244..18,010,053 [-]

Classification - Vip; WH2 actin-binding domains and WASp-binding domain

Cellular location - cytoplasmic

NCBI links: Precomputed BLAST | EntrezGene

Formation of syncytial muscle fibers involves repeated rounds of cell fusion between growing myotubes and neighboring myoblasts. Wsp, the Drosophila homolog of the WASp family of microfilament nucleation-promoting factors, is an essential facilitator of myoblast fusion in Drosophila embryos. D-WIP (termed Verprolin 1 in FlyBase), a homolog of the conserved Verprolin/WASp Interacting Protein family of WASp-binding proteins, performs a key mediating role in this context. D-WIP, which is expressed specifically in myoblasts, associates with both the WASp-Arp2/3 system and with the myoblast adhesion molecules Dumbfounded and Sticks and Stones, thereby recruiting the actin-polymerization machinery to sites of myoblast attachment and fusion. This analysis demonstrates that D-WIP recruitment is normally required late in the fusion process, for enlargement of nascent fusion pores and breakdown of the apposed cell membranes. These observations identify cellular and developmental roles for the WASp-Arp2/3 pathway, and provide a link between force-generating actin polymerization and cell fusion (Massarwa, 2007).

The evolutionarily conserved Arp2/3 protein complex is the primary microfilament-nucleating machinery in eukaryotic cells. To perform its diverse cellular roles, the complex must first be activated by nucleation-promoting factors (NPFs), such as members of the WASp and WAVE/SCAR protein families. These elements serve as essential mediators, linking signal-transduction pathways and Arp2/3-based actin polymerization. Actin polymerization triggered by this system is translated into forces that drive a variety of key cellular functions, including cell locomotion, motility of membrane-bound particles within cells, and formation of endocytic vesicles (Massarwa, 2007).

A major challenge in the field is the assignment of physiological roles to this potent cellular machinery during the development of multicellular organisms. While genetic approaches in model organisms have shown promise in this regard, the numerous and sometimes overlapping roles assigned to the Arp2/3 system often prove difficult to separate. Previous work has shown that Wsp, the Drosophila WASp homolog, acts as an Arp2/3 activator in restricted developmental contexts, thus allowing for characterization of Arp2/3 function in vivo. This approach was used to reveal an unexpected involvement of the WASp-Arp2/3 system in myogenesis. Specifically, this system is shown to play a distinct role in myoblast fusion during Drosophila embryogenesis (Massarwa, 2007).

Somatic muscle fibers in the mature Drosophila embryo are comprised of multinucleated cells that form by multiple rounds of fusion between two distinct myoblast subpopulations. After the initial specification of the mesoderm, each embryonic trunk hemi-segment contains ~30 'founder cell' myoblasts, which will direct muscle formation and differentiation, and a large number of fusion-competent myoblasts (FCMs). Founder cells possess the information necessary for determining the identity and size of the individual somatic muscles, while the FCMs serve as a repository that will add cytoplasmic bulk to each muscle fiber (Massarwa, 2007).

Recognition and association of founder cells and FCMs are based on heterotypic interactions between differentially expressed immunoglobulin superfamily cell-surface proteins. Founder cells express Dumbfounded (Duf) and the closely related Roughest (Rst), which serve as attractants for FCMs. Physical association between Duf/Rst and the FCM-specific protein Sticks and Stones (SNS) provides a key step in myoblast adhesion and alignment of the myoblast cell membranes. Founder cells initially fuse with one or two FCMs, leading to the formation of bi-/trinuclear muscle precursors. A second, major phase of muscle growth then ensues, in which the precursor myotubes undergo successive rounds of fusion with multiple FCMs. In addition to the cell-adhesion molecules, genetic approaches have revealed a number of elements that contribute to various steps of the fusion process, including transcription factors, signaling molecules, and cytoskeleton-associated proteins (Massarwa, 2007).

This study demonstrates that function of the WASp-Arp2/3 system is essential for the second phase of myoblast fusions, between maturing myotubes and FCMs, and acts after formation of fusion pores in the double membrane of the apposed cells. Recruitment of the WASp-Arp2/3 system to founder cell-FCM attachment sites is achieved via D-WIP, a Drosophila homolog of the Verprolin/WASp Interacting Protein (Vrp/WIP) family. Functional associations with members of this protein family constitute an evolutionarily conserved feature of WASp activity (Anton, 2006; Aspenstrom, 2005). D-WIP is specifically expressed in myoblasts and associates with the cell-surface proteins that mediate adhesion between founder cells and FCMs, thereby establishing a critical link between the cellular machineries that govern fusion and microfilament dynamics. These findings present a novel tissue context for the involvement of the Arp2/3 system in physiological events and extend the functional applications of the forces generated by actin polymerization to a central process of tissue morphogenesis (Massarwa, 2007).

This study has identified an exceptional and highly cell-type-specific mode for regulating the Arp2/3 system. Functional selectivity in this system is usually achieved via spatial and temporal control over the operation of signal-transduction pathways and the resulting production of potent activating elements for the relevant Arp2/3 nucleation-promoting factor. In contrast, it is the restricted expression of D-WIP in the FCMs that confines Wsp-mediated triggering of Arp2/3 activity to the fusing myoblasts of Drosophila embryos. Transcriptional control over D-WIP expression, governed directly or indirectly by the Lame Duck (Lmd) transcription factor, thus provides a means for translating embryonic patterning schemes into distinct and specific cellular activities, which can profoundly influence cell morphology (Massarwa, 2007).

The structural basis for the interaction between D-WIP and Wsp is consistent with the established principles of Vrp/WIP-WASp protein association, which rely on an interaction between an ~25 residue long peptide from the extreme C-terminal region of Vrp/WIP proteins and the WH1/EVH1 N-terminal region of WASp proteins (Volkman, 2002: Aspenstrom, 2005). Most critical residues within these domains are conserved in the Drosophila homologs. Moreover, genetic data and S2 cell localization observations strongly implicate these domains in mediating physical association between the two proteins (Massarwa, 2007).

By virtue of its association with the cell-surface adhesion proteins Duf and SNS, expressed in founder cells and FCMs, respectively, D-WIP may impose a common functionality on these distinct myoblast types. Yet to be determined, however, is the nature of the interaction between D-WIP and the myoblast-attachment machinery, and whether this interaction is constitutive or is dependent upon founder cell-FCM contact. Colocalization in both developing embryonic muscles and aggregated S2 cells, as well as the coimmunoprecipitation of D-WIP and Duf, underlies the suggestion of a physical association, but whether this association is direct requires further investigation (Massarwa, 2007).

The lack of significant sequence homology between the cytoplasmic portions of the Duf and SNS proteins, and the comparatively tighter correspondence between D-WIP and SNS localizations, may be indicative of distinct modes of association between D-WIP and the two types of adhesion proteins. It is interesting to note in this context that mammalian Nephrin, which shares structural and sequence similarities with SNS, employs direct binding of its cytoplasmic portion to the adaptor protein Nck, as a means of establishing a functional link to the actin-based cytoskeleton (Massarwa, 2007).

WASp-family proteins are thought to reside in an auto-inhibited conformation, which prevents productive interaction with Arp2/3 and is alleviated only by binding of signaling molecules. Scenarios consistent with a recruiting role for Vrp/WIP proteins have been described, including involvement of WASp in actin-based motility of intracellular pathogens (Moreau, 2000) and in cytoskeletal remodeling of the immune synapse (Sasahara, 2002). However, Vrp/WIP proteins on their own fail to stimulate, or may even inhibit, WASP-based Arp2/3 activation (Martinez-Quiles, 2001: Ho, 2004), implying a requirement for additional activating elements. The observation that WspMyr, a membrane-tethered form of Wsp, can partially compensate for loss of D-WIP function is consistent with an exclusive recruitment role for D-WIP. However, it should be born in mind that an additional step of Wsp activation may be required after its recruitment. Since the results of phenotypic rescue experiments further imply that established activators of WASp-type proteins such as CDC42 and PIP2 do not operate in this context, the identity of an independent Wsp activator during myoblast fusion, if one indeed exists, is currently unknown (Massarwa, 2007).

Activation of the Arp2/3 complex promotes the generation of branched networks of polymerizing actin filaments, in close proximity to both the cell surface and to internal cell membranes. The physical force liberated by this energetically favorable process can be harnessed to push against, or otherwise influence, membrane behavior. A key challenge stemming from the experimental observations is to identify the mechanism by which Arp2/3-based force production contributes to the progress of myoblast fusion (Massarwa, 2007).

The detailed TEM-level description of Drosophila myoblast fusion has stipulated a series of events, including formation of pores next to sites of accumulated electron-dense material along the apposed myoblast membranes, vesiculation/fragmentation of the membranes between the pores, and removal of the residual membrane material. Analysis of the D-WIP and Wsp mutant phenotypes demonstrates a requirement for the Arp2/3 system at a relatively late stage of the fusion process, after formation of the initial fusion pores (Massarwa, 2007).

Much of what is known about the mechanisms driving cell-cell (including myoblast) fusion relates to recognition and adhesion between pairs of cells and construction of initial fusion pores, while the more advanced processes of pore enlargement and the eventual establishment of full cytoplasmic continuity between the fusing cells remain mostly unexplored. The demonstration of a requirement for the cellular actin-polymerization machinery at these stages holds the promise of establishing a mechanistic basis for these late events (Massarwa, 2007).

Several possible mechanisms can be proposed for the manner by which polymerization-based forces drive fusion to completion, after initial pore formation. Pore enlargement during membrane fusion poses considerable energy requirements, which Arp2/3-based polymerization seems well suited to satisfy. The 'pushing' forces inherent in this cellular machinery can be applied to the contours of nascent fusion pores, thereby ensuring their continuous expansion. Alternatively, myoblast membranes may be broken down by vesiculation, akin to endocytosis. Detailed genetic and cellular studies have demonstrated essential roles for the Vrp/WIP-WASp-Arp2/3 machinery during endocytosis of clathrin-coated vesicles in budding yeast, and mechanistic interpretations of the forces involved have been put forward. In keeping with previous discussions of these issues, it is tempting to suggest that electron-dense structures, common to the contact sites of myoblasts in both Drosophila and vertebrate species, may provide a structural framework through which polymerization-based forces exert their influence. Finally, a role for the Arp2/3 machinery can be invisioned in an even more advanced step in the fusion process, namely, the final removal of residual, vesiculated membrane material from the disrupted sites of membrane contact to create full cytoplasmic continuity (Massarwa, 2007).

In summary, these observations linking myoblast cell-surface adhesion proteins in Drosophila embryos with the WIP/WASp module suggest a mechanism through which the conserved cellular machinery promoting force production via microfilament nucleation can be harnessed to drive muscle fiber formation to completion. Future studies will determine the finer mechanistic details of the cellular mechanism employed in this instance, and the degree to which this link can be generalized to myogenesis in vertebrate species, as well as other processes of cell fusion (Massarwa, 2007).


cDNA clone length - 3798 (isoform A)

Bases in 5' UTR - 646

Exons - 7 (isoform A)

Bases in 3' UTR - 797


Amino Acids - 751 (isoform A)

Structural Domains

A single Vrp/WIP homolog, which is referred here to as D-WIP, is encoded in the Drosophila genome by the previously uncharacterized gene CG13503. D-WIP displays all of the structural hallmarks of Vrp/WIP homologs, including a pair of N-terminal WH2 actin-binding domains and a signature WASp-binding domain at the extreme C terminus (Massarwa, 2007).

Verprolin 1: Evolutionary Homologs | Regulation | Developmental Biology | Effects of Mutation | References

date revised: 5 August 2007

Home page: The Interactive Fly © 2006 Thomas Brody, Ph.D.

The Interactive Fly resides on the
Society for Developmental Biology's Web server.