InteractiveFly: GeneBrief

Whamy: Biological Overview | References

Gene name - Whamy

Synonyms -

Cytological map position - 85E8-85E8

Function - signaling protein

Keywords - actin polymerase - promotes exceptionally fast actin filament elongation - functions in membrane protrusions and cell migration in macrophages - functions in myoblast fusion - sensory cell fate specification

Symbol - Whamy

FlyBase ID: FBgn0037750

Genetic map position - chr3R:9,771,795-9,774,419

Classification - WH2 motif (for Wiskott Aldrich syndrome homology region 2)

Cellular location - cytoplasmic

NCBI links: Precomputed BLAST | EntrezGene

Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome proteins (WASP) are nucleation promoting factors (NPF) that differentially control the Arp2/3 complex. In Drosophila, three different family members, SCAR/WAVE, WASP and WASH, have been analyzed so far. This study characterizes WHAMY, the fourth Drosophila WASP family member. whamy originated from a wasp gene duplication and underwent a sub-neofunctionalization. Unlike WASP, WHAMY specifically interacts with activated Rac1 through its two CRIB domains that are sufficient for targeting WHAMY to lamellipodial and filopodial tips. Biochemical analyses showed that WHAMY promotes exceptionally fast actin filament elongation, while it does not activate the Arp2/3 complex. Loss- and gain-of function studies revealed an important function of WHAMY in membrane protrusions and cell migration in macrophages. Genetic data further imply synergistic functions between WHAMY and WASP during morphogenesis. Double mutants are late-embryonic lethal and show severe defects in myoblast fusion. Trans-heterozygous mutant animals show strongly increased defects in sensory cell fate specification. Thus, WHAMY is a novel actin polymerase with an initial partitioning of ancestral WASP functions in development and subsequent acquisition of a new function in cell motility during evolution (Brinkmann, 2015).

The actin cytoskeleton plays a central role in a number of different cellular functions, such as cell shape changes, cell motility and membrane trafficking. Members of the Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome protein (WASP) family are conserved nucleation-promoting factors (NPF) that activate the Arp2/3 complex, a major actin nucleator in eukaryotic cells. In mammals, the WASP protein family consists of eight different members: the two Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome proteins WASP and N-WASP (also known as WAS and WASL, respectively), the related WASP family Verprolin homologous proteins WAVE1-WAVE3 (also known as SCAR1-SCAR3 and WASF1-WASF3, the Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome protein and SCAR homolog WASH (also known as WASH1), and the WHAMM and JMY proteins. WASP proteins share a conserved C-terminal Arp2/3-complex-activating WCA module. This module consists of either one or multiple actin-monomer-binding WH2 (W) domains, a central domain (C) and an acidic (A) domain, which mediate Arp2/3 binding. Apart from the catalytic WCA module, WASP proteins often share a proline-rich region and a basic region, which bind SH3-domain containing proteins and acidic phosphoinositides, respectively. WASP proteins are regulated by similar molecular principles. Under resting conditions NPFs are primarily inactive and become activated upon binding of the Rho GTPases Cdc42 and Rac1. Additionally, a variety of factors further modulate proper activation and recruitment of WASP proteins (Brinkmann, 2015).

In Drosophila, only three WASP subfamily members have been described, namely WAVE, WASP and WASH (also known as CG13176). Insects like Drosophila have subsequently lost a WHAMM/JMY gene, although the common ancestor first arose in invertebrates. Genetic studies indicate that WAVE and WASP are the central activators of the Arp2/3 complex, differentially regulating most aspects of Arp2/3 function in Drosophila. These studies highlight distinct, but also overlapping cellular requirements of WAVE and WASP during development. WAVE function is in particular essential for cell shape and morphogenetic cell movements during development. By contrast, WASP function is needed for cell fate specification of sensory organ precursors (SOPs) and spermatid Both, WASP and WAVE are required for myoblast fusion (Brinkmann, 2015).

Loss of maternal and zygotic WASP results in late-embryonic lethality due to strong defects in cell fate decisions of neuronal cell lineages and myoblast fusion defects. Remarkably, animals lacking zygotic WASP function survive until early adulthood. Thus, maternally provided WASP protein is sufficient for proper embryonic and larval development. Mutant wasp flies show no strong morphological defects except a partial loss of sensory bristles. Loss of zygotic Arp2/3 function results in a similar, albeit stronger, neurogenic phenotype suggesting an involvement of additional factors in Arp2/3-dependent SOP development. The loss of sensory bristles in wasp and arp2/3 mutants phenocopies Notch loss-of-function and is caused by a pIIa-to-pIIb cell fate transformation. This results in an excess of neurons at the expense of bristle sheath, shaft and socket cells. Recent work further suggests that the WASP-Arp2/3 pathway rather plays an important role in the trafficking of Delta-positive vesicles from the basal area to the apical cortex of the signal-sending pIIb cell (Brinkmann, 2015).

Remarkably, rescue experiments have implied that established activators of WASP, such as Cdc42 or phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2), are not required for WASP function, neither for the myoblast fusion process nor for SOP development. The identity of an independent activator that might act cooperatively to control Arp2/3 function in these contexts is unknown. This study presents a functional analysis of WHAMY, a new WASP-like protein that regulates cell motility of Drosophila blood cells but also synergizes with WASP during embryonic muscle formation and cell fate specification of adult SOPs (Brinkmann, 2015).

The identification of all WASP family homologs in all sequenced organisms allows a detailed phylogenetic analysis of the origin of diverse subfamilies evolving differential cellular functions. WASP proteins are multi-domain proteins. They share functions that are encoded by similar domains at the C-termini, whereas different N-terminal domains mainly define their diverse cellular processes. Gene duplication and domain shuffling are two important mechanisms driving novel and increasingly complex developmental programs during evolution. It is thought that this boost in domain shuffling is responsible for the apparent disconnection between greatly increased phenotypic complexity and a relatively small difference in gene number between humans and Drosophila (Brinkmann, 2015).

The whamy gene is an excellent example for how gene duplication and subsequent domain shuffling can create new gene functions after initial gene duplication. It arose through a duplication of wasp at the base of the genus Drosophila. Although the encoded protein has evolved a new function in cell motility, it also functions synergistically with WASP in muscle formation and sensory organ development. In the latter, WHAMY can even partially substitute for WASP, indicating that it has kept functionality following the duplication. This duality is reflected in the sequence of the WHAMY CRIB domains. As there is an overlap in function with WASP, selective pressure has been reduced since the duplication, leading to the observed increase of evolutionary rate. Following the duplication of the CRIB domains within WHAMY, a similar trend can be found. Whereas one domain has kept the function of binding to Cdc42-GTP, the other has lost the ability to interact. This is reflected in domain-specific conserved substitutions. The duplication of the wasp gene and subsequent subneofunctionalization of whamy might have occurred at the same time as the loss of a true WHAMM/JMY ancestor during insect evolution (Veltman, 2010). Like Drosophila WHAMY, the common ancestor of WHAMM/JMY proteins in invertebrates also lacks the characteristic C-terminal tryptophan residue in their VCA domains that is crucial for Arp2/3 binding and activation (Veltman, 2010). This further implies a primary Arp2/3-independent function of the common ancestor of invertebrate WHAMM/JMY proteins (Brinkmann, 2015).

WHAMY shows no Arp2/3-activating nucleation promoting factor (NPF) activity in vitro. However, different from WASP, WHAMY itself is able to promote fast elongation of linear actin filaments from actin-rich clusters. With respect to its activity, WHAMY resembles the WH2-domain containing Ena/VASP polymerases that actively drive processive actin-filament elongation and promote assembly of both lamellipodial and filopodia actin networks. Notably, Ena/VASP proteins are tetramers, and their oligomerization is mandatory to allow for polymerase activity in experiments in solution, as used in this study. Since fast filament elongation was exclusively observed from WHAMY clusters in total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) experiments, and consistent with the size exclusion chromatography experiments, it is proposed that WHAMY requires oligomerization to acquire actin polymerase activity. Concerning previously analyzed proteins of the WASP family, the filament elongation activity of WHAMY is therefore rather unique, and when compared to other fast actin polymerases, only the Drosophila formin Diaphanous achieves comparable high elongation activity in vitro. As evidenced from the pyrene data, the activity of WHAMY can further be increased by Rac1 (Brinkmann, 2015).

Rac1 seems to act on both the activity and the localization of WHAMY at lamellipodial tips. Both of the two CRIB domains of WHAMY bind equally to activated Rac1, and only loss of both CRIB domains abolishes Rac1 binding and the localization to the leading edge. Therefore, it currently remains unclear why WHAMY contains two CRIB domains and whether they differentially mediate distinct cellular functions. They might contribute to a local clustering of WHAMY and Rac1 at the leading edge. The most prominent Rac1 effector represents the WAVE regulatory complex (WRC) that drives Arp2/3-mediated branched actin nucleation. Rac1 directly binds and activates the WRC by allosterically releasing the bound Arp2/3-activating WCA domain of WAVE. Overexpression of WHAMY leads to a strong induction of filopodia, presumably due to the filament elongation activity of WHAMY. Additionally, competition between WHAMY and the WRC for Rac1 could disturb the balance between nucleation and elongation activity, and therefore might contribute to the observed overexpression phenotype. Different from WHAMY, WRC function is essential for lamellipodia formation and cell migration in most eukaryotic cells. By contrast, loss of WHAMY function does not impair lamellipodia formation but rather regulates cell spreading and contributes to cell motility (Brinkmann, 2015).

WHAMY does not compete but rather functions together with WASP in Drosophila morphogenesis. Previous studies have revealed that the major established activators of WASP, such as Cdc42 and PIP2, are not required for the function of WASP in sensory organ development or myoblast fusion. This observation already suggests that additional components, such as WHAMY, might act together with WASP in sensory organ development and myoblast fusion. Consistent with this, further reduction of whamy function in wasp mutants was found to phenocopy loss of arp2/3 function, resulting in an excess of neurons and a near absence of bristle sheath, shaft and socket cells. Rescue data further indicate that WHAMY can partially substitute for WASP function. Thus, WHAMY cooperates with WASP rather than acting redundantly in sensory organ development. Based on TIRF microscopy data, it is suggested that WHAMY might potentially generate mother filaments in close vicinity of Arp2/3 complex facilitating Arp2/3-mediated actin assembly (Brinkmann, 2015).

How might WHAMY and WASP act on actin dynamics during sensory organ development? Recent work suggests that the WASP-Arp2/3 pathway is not involved in Notch receptor endocytosis or its processing in the signal-receiving cell (pIIa) but rather plays an important role in the trafficking of Delta-positive vesicles from the basal area to the apical cortex of the signal-sending pIIb cell. This model also implies that recycled Notch ligands such as Delta and Serrate are active at apical junctions with actin-rich structures induced by WASP and the Arp2/3 complex, which in turn activate apical Notch receptor in pIIa. In vivo, WHAMY localizes at dynamic vesicles during sensory organ precursor formation and, together with WASP, becomes strongly enriched at apical junctions shortly after SOP division. Thus, a scenario is proposed in which WASP and WHAMY might act either on the assembly of actin-rich structures or directly promote apical trafficking of Delta through Rab11-recycling endosomes (Brinkmann, 2015).

A dynamic reorganization of the actin cytoskeleton into distinct cellular structures is also necessary to ensure successful myogenesis. Filopodial protrusions are crucial for the attachment of FCMs to the founder cell and growing myotube, and for the initiation of the fusion process. The recognition and adhesion of myoblasts depends on members of the immunoglobulin superfamily (IgSF) that are expressed specifically in myoblasts in a ring-like structure. The interaction of these proteins leads to the formation of a cell communication structure, which has been termed fusion-restricted myogenic adhesive structure (FuRMAS) or podosome-like structure. The cytodomains of the IgSFs trigger the activation of WAVE in founder cells, and of WAVE and WASP in FCMs. In FCMs, WAVE- and WASP-mediated Arp2/3 activation results in the formation of a dense F-actin focus that accumulates at the interface of adhering myoblasts. Electron microscopy studies have revealed that WASP is required for the formation of fusion pores at apposing myoblasts during embryonic and indirect flight muscle development. These fusion pores expand until full cytoplasmic continuity is achieved, and WASP has implicated to be required for fusion pore expansion. It has been discussed that WASP is required for the removal of membrane residuals during membrane vesiculation. WHAMY might contribute to this process, but the detailed mechanistic contribution of WHAMY in fusion pore formation needs to be addressed in future studies by ultrastructural analyses (Brinkmann, 2015).

WASP family proteins: their evolution and its physiological implications

Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome (WASP) family proteins participate in many cellular processes involving rearrangements of the actin cytoskeleton. To the date, four WASP subfamily members have been described in Drosophila: Wash, WASp, SCAR, and Whamy. Wash, WASp, and SCAR are essential during early Drosophila development where they function in orchestrating cytoplasmic events including membrane-cytoskeleton interactions. A mutant for Whamy has not yet been reported. Monoclonal antibodies were generated that were specific to Drosophila Wash, WASp, SCAR, and Whamy, and these were used to describe their spatial and temporal localization patterns. Consistent with the importance of WASP family proteins in flies, it was found that Wash, WASp, SCAR, and Whamy are dynamically expressed throughout oogenesis and embryogenesis. For example, Wash was found to accumulate at the oocyte cortex. WASp is highly expressed in the PNS, while SCAR is the most abundantly expressed in the CNS. Whamy exhibits an asymmetric subcellular localization that overlaps with mitochondria and is highly expressed in muscle. It is concluded that all four WASP family members show specific expression patterns, some of which reflect their previously known roles and others revealing new potential functions. The monoclonal antibodies developed offer valuable new tools to investigate how WASP family proteins regulate actin cytoskeleton dynamics (Veltman, 2010).

Whamy exhibits an unusual asymmetric subcellular localization as it accumulates on the apical (outermost) side of each nurse cell and somatic follicle cells. Whamy does not co-localize with actin-rich structures, but can be seen to thread its way through ring canals. In z-projections of the egg chamber epithelia, Whamy is highly enriched in a 'crescent shaped' pattern surrounding the nuclei of certain follicles cells, suggesting a possible role for Whamy in the polarization of the developing egg chamber. This asymmetric localization varies in different regions of the egg chamber. In the more anterior region of the egg chamber Whamy is homogenously distributed within the cytoplasm of the cells, whereas in the middle of the egg chamber it appears to surround the nuclei forming a crescent shape. The transition in Whamy subcellular localization from one region to another is quite sharp (Veltman, 2010).

While studies in cells have uncovered a role for mammalian WHAMM, a Wasp family protein, in maintaining Golgi structure and in the regulation of ER to Golgi transport, in vivo functions for fly Whamy have not yet been reported. However, Whamy's asymmetric localization is intriguing in the light of a recent study showing that Drosophila egg chambers undergo circumferential rotation around their long axes during stages 7-9, a process that is proposed to involve polarized cell behaviors. Therefore, ovaries were co-stained with Whamy and α-tubulin to visualize microtubules, the golgi protein Lava lamp, or the mitochondrial marker MitoTracker. No co-localization of Whamy was observed with microtubules or golgi in stages 7-9 egg chambers when Whamy is asymmetrically enriched. However, Whamy and Lava lamp staining overlap in stage 10 egg chambers where Whamy and golgi exhibit perinuclear accumulation. Most strikingly, Whamy expression pattern is identical to that exhibited by mitochondria, as MitoTracker co-localizes with all aspects of Whamy subcellular localization. Mitochondria dynamics and morphology are important for many cellular functions including development, aging and cell death, and when defective have been linked to human diseases, such as inherited neuropathies. The co-localization of Whamy with mitochondria is interesting in light of a possible role for Whamy in mitochondria tubulation, which could be important for energy metabolism or cell shape changes necessary for proper egg chamber rotation (Veltman, 2010).


Search PubMed for articles about Drosophila Whamy

Brinkmann, K., Winterhoff, M., Onel, S. F., Schultz, J., Faix, J. and Bogdan, S. (2015). WHAMY is a novel actin polymerase promoting myoblast fusion, macrophage cell motility and sensory organ development. J Cell Sci 129(3):604-20. PubMed ID: 26675239

Veltman, D. M. and Insall, R. H. (2010). WASP family proteins: their evolution and its physiological implications. Mol Biol Cell 21: 2880-2893. PubMed ID: 20573979

Biological Overview

date revised: 14 April 2016

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