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

Synonyms -

Cytological map position - 60B5

Function - cytoskeletal element

Keywords - cytoskeleton, axon guidance, oogenesis, spermatogenesis

Symbol - tsr

FlyBase ID: FBgn0011726

Genetic map position - 2R

Classification - actin-binding domain, cofilin/tropomyosin type

Cellular location - cytoplasmic

NCBI link: Entrez Gene
tsr orthologs: Biolitmine

Recent literature
Dopie, J., Rajakyla, E. K., Joensuu, M. S., Huet, G., Ferrantelli, E., Xie, T., Jaalinoja, H., Jokitalo, E. and Vartiainen, M. K. (2015) Genome-wide RNAi screen for nuclear actin reveals a network of cofilin regulatorsJ Cell Sci [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 26021350
Nuclear actin plays an important role in many processes that regulate gene expression. Cytoplasmic actin dynamics are tightly controlled by numerous actin-binding proteins, but regulation of nuclear actin has remained unclear. This study consisted of a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila cells to identify proteins that influence either nuclear polymerization or import of actin. Nineteen factors were validated as specific hits, and it was shown that Chinmo/Bach2, SNF4Agamma/Prkag1 and Rab18 play a role in nuclear localization of actin in both fly and mammalian cells. This study identified several novel regulators of cofilin activity, and characterize modulators of both cofilin kinases and phosphatase. For example, Chinmo/Bach2, which regulates nuclear actin levels also in vivo, maintains active twinstar/cofilin by repressing Cdi/Tes kinase expression. Finally, Nup98 and Lam were shown to be candidates for regulating nuclear actin polymerization. This screen therefore reveals novel aspects of actin regulation and links nuclear actin to many cellular processes.

Lenhart, K.F. and DiNardo, S. (2015). Somatic cell encystment promotes abscission in germline stem cells following a regulated block in cytokinesis. Dev Cell [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 26143993
In many tissues, the stem cell niche must coordinate behavior across multiple stem cell lineages. How this is achieved is largely unknown. This study identifies delayed completion of cytokinesis in germline stem cells (GSCs) as a mechanism that regulates the production of stem cell daughters in the Drosophila testis. Through live imaging, it was shown that a secondary F-actin ring is formed through regulation of Cofilin activity to block cytokinesis progress after contractile ring disassembly (GSCs delay cytokinesis in two distinct phases). The duration of this block is controlled by Aurora B kinase. Additionally, a requirement for somatic cell encystment of the germline in promoting GSC abscission was identified. The study suggests that this non-autonomous role promotes coordination between stem cell lineages. These findings reveal the mechanisms by which cytokinesis is inhibited and reinitiated in GSCs and why such complex regulation exists within the stem cell niche.

Ko, C., Kim, Y.G., Le, T.P. and Choi, K.W. (2016). Twinstar/cofilin is required for regulation of epithelial integrity and tissue growth in Drosophila. Oncogene [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 27041568
Regulation of actin assembly and depolymerization is important for the organization of epithelia. Recent studies have shown that the actin-capping proteins are required to prevent cell extrusion and inappropriate activation of Yorkie (Yki) activity in Drosophila, implicating the importance of actin regulation for epithelial integrity and Yki-dependent tissue growth. However, the role of Twinstar (Tsr), the Drosophila homolog for cofilin/actin depolymerization factor, in epithelial integrity and Hippo signaling is unknown. This study demonstrates that reduction of Tsr by RNA interference (RNAi) or mutant clones in wing disc induces not only F-actin accumulation but also ectopic expression of Wingless (Wg) and Yki target gene expanded. Knockdown of Yki in Tsr-depleted cells reduces the level of ectopic Wg expression. Reduced Tsr also leads to downregulation of cell junction proteins and extrusion of affected cells from the basal part of the epithelium. Rho is upregulated in Tsr-depleted tissue, supporting the Tsr function in the inhibition of cell extrusion from the epithelium. Tsr is also required for blocking cell death and JNK signaling. Ectopic JNK activation induces caspase activation but does not cause cell extrusion. Taken together, these data suggest that Tsr is required for cell survival and tissue growth by regulating JNK and Yki signaling while maintaining the epithelial integrity by controlling cell junctions. The study provides an insight into potential roles of ADF/cofilin in invasive cell migration and tumor suppression in higher animals.

Ojelade, S. A., Acevedo, S. F., Kalahasti, G., Rodan, A. R. and Rothenfluh, A. (2015). RhoGAP18B isoforms act on distinct Rho-Family GTPases and regulate behavioral responses to alcohol via cofilin. PLoS One 10: e0137465. PubMed ID: 26366560
Responses to the effects of ethanol are highly conserved across organisms, with reduced responses to the sedating effects of ethanol being predictive of increased risk for human alcohol dependence. Regulators of actin dynamics, such as the Rho-family GTPases Rac1, Rho1, and Cdc42, alter Drosophila's sensitivity to ethanol-induced sedation. The GTPase activating protein RhoGAP18B also affects sensitivity to ethanol. To better understand how different RhoGAP18B isoforms affect ethanol sedation, they were examined for their effects on cell shape, GTP-loading of Rho-family GTPase, activation of the actin-severing cofilin, and actin filamentation. The results suggest that the RhoGAP18B-PA isoform acts on Cdc42, while PC and PD act via Rac1 and Rho1 to activate cofilin. In vivo, a loss-of-function mutation in the cofilin-encoding gene twinstar leads to reduced ethanol-sensitivity and acts in concert with RhoGAP18B. Different RhoGAP18B isoforms, therefore, act on distinct subsets of Rho-family GTPases to modulate cofilin activity, actin dynamics, and ethanol-induced behaviors.

Wu, J., Wang, H., Guo, X. and Chen, J. (2016). Cofilin-mediated actin dynamics promotes actin bundle formation during Drosophila bristle development. Mol Biol Cell [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 27385345
The actin bundle is an array of linear actin filaments cross-linked by actin bundling proteins, but its assembly and dynamics are not as well understood as those of branched actin network. This study used the Drosophila bristle as a model system to study actin bundle formation. Cofilin, a major actin disassembly factor of branched actin network, was found to promote the formation and positioning of actin bundles in the developing bristles. Loss-of-function of cofilin or AIP1, a cofactor of cofilin, each resulted in increased F-actin levels and severe defects in actin bundle organization, with the defects from cofilin deficiency being more severe. Further analyses revealed that cofilin likely regulates actin bundle formation and positioning by the following means. First, cofilin promotes a large G-actin pool both locally and globally, likely ensuring rapid actin polymerization for bundle initiation and growth. Second, cofilin limits the size of a nonbundled actin-myosin network to regulate positioning of actin bundles. Third, cofilin prevents incorrect assembly of branched and myosin-associated actin filament into bundles. Together, these results demonstrate that the interaction between the dynamic dendritic actin network and the assembling actin bundles is critical for actin bundle formation and needs to be closely regulated.
Shukla, V. K., Maheshwari, D., Jain, A., Tripathi, S., Kumar, D. and Arora, A. (2018). Structure, dynamics, and biochemical characterization of ADF/cofilin Twinstar from Drosophila melanogastor. Biochim Biophys Acta. PubMed ID: 29709602
Twinstar is an ADF/Cofilin family protein, which is expressed by the tsr gene in Drosophila melanogaster. Twinstar is one of the main regulators of actin cytoskeleton remodelling and is essential for vital cellular processes like cytokinesis and endocytosis. This study has characterized the structure and dynamics of Twinstar by solution NMR spectroscopy. The solution structure of Twinstar shows characteristic ADF-H fold with well-formed G/F-site and F-site for interaction with actin. The structure possesses an extended F-loop, which is rigid at the base, but flexible towards its apical region. Twinstar shares similar dynamics for the G/F-site with C. elegans homologs, UNC-60A and UNC-60B. However, the dynamics of its F-loop are different from its C. elegans homologs. Twinstar shows strong affinity for ADP-G-Actin and ATP-G-Actin with Kds of ~7.6nM and ~0.4mμM, respectively. It shows mild F-actin depolymerizing activity and stable interaction with F-actin with a Kd of ~5.0mμM. It inhibits the rate of the nucleotide exchange in a dose dependent manner. On the basis of structure, dynamics, and biochemical activity, Twinstar can be taken to execute its biochemical role by facilitating directional growth and maintenance of length of actin filaments. This study characterizes the structure, backbone dynamics, and biochemical activities of Twinstar of Drosophila, which provides an insight into the regulation of actin dynamics in the member of phylum insecta.
Ikawa, K. and Sugimura, K. (2018). AIP1 and cofilin ensure a resistance to tissue tension and promote directional cell rearrangement. Nat Commun 9(1): 3295. PubMed ID: 30202062
In order to understand how tissue mechanics shapes animal body, it is critical to clarify how cells respond to and resist tissue stress when undergoing morphogenetic processes, such as cell rearrangement. This study addresses the question in the Drosophila wing epithelium, where anisotropic tissue tension orients cell rearrangements. Anisotropic tissue tension localizes actin interacting protein 1 (AIP1), a cofactor of cofilin, on the remodeling junction via cooperative binding of cofilin to F-actin. AIP1 and cofilin promote actin turnover and locally regulate the Canoe-mediated linkage between actomyosin and the junction. This mechanism is essential for cells to resist the mechanical load imposed on the remodeling junction perpendicular to the direction of tissue stretching. Thus, the present study delineates how AIP1 and cofilin achieve an optimal balance between resistance to tissue tension and morphogenesis.
Skouloudaki, K., Christodoulou, I., Khalili, D., Tsarouhas, V., Samakovlis, C., Tomancak, P., Knust, E. and Papadopoulos, D. K. (2019). Yorkie controls tube length and apical barrier integrity during airway development. J Cell Biol. PubMed ID: 31315941
Epithelial organ size and shape depend on cell shape changes, cell-matrix communication, and apical membrane growth. The Drosophila melanogaster embryonic tracheal network is an excellent model to study these processes. This study shows that the transcriptional coactivator of the Hippo pathway, Yorkie (YAP/TAZ in vertebrates), plays distinct roles in the developing Drosophila airways. Yorkie exerts a cytoplasmic function by binding Drosophila Twinstar, the orthologue of the vertebrate actin-severing protein Cofilin, to regulate F-actin levels and apical cell membrane size, which are required for proper tracheal tube elongation. Second, Yorkie controls water tightness of tracheal tubes by transcriptional regulation of the delta-aminolevulinate synthase gene (Alas). It is concluded that Yorkie has a dual role in tracheal development to ensure proper tracheal growth and functionality.
Butts, A. R., Ojelade, S. A., Pronovost, E. D., Seguin, A., Merrill, C. B., Rodan, A. R. and Rothenfluh, A. (2019). Altered actin filament dynamics in the Drosophila mushroom bodies lead to fast acquisition of alcohol consumption preference. J Neurosci. PubMed ID: 31558618
Alcohol use is highly prevalent in the United States and across the world, and every year millions of people suffer from alcohol use disorders (AUDs). While the genetic contribution to developing AUDs is estimated to be 50-60%, many of the underlying molecular mechanisms remain unclear. Previous studies have revealed that Drosophila melanogaster lacking RhoGAP18B and Ras Suppressor 1 (Rsu1) display reduced sensitivity to ethanol-induced sedation. Both Rsu1 and RhoGAP18B are negative regulators of the small Rho-family GTPase, Rac1, a modulator of actin dynamics. This study investigated the role of Rac1 and its downstream target, the actin-severing protein cofilin, in alcohol consumption preference. These two regulators of actin dynamics can alter male experience-dependent alcohol preference in a bidirectional manner: expressing either activated Rac1 or dominant-negative cofilin in the mushroom bodies (MB) abolishes experience-dependent alcohol preference. Conversely, dominant-negative Rac1 or activated cofilin MB expression lead to faster acquisition of alcohol preference. These data show that Rac1 and cofilin activity are key to determining the rate of acquisition of alcohol preference, revealing a critical role of actin dynamics regulation in the development of voluntary self-administration in Drosophila
Sudarsanam, S., Yaniv, S., Meltzer, H. and Schuldiner, O. (2020). Cofilin regulates axon growth and branching of Drosophila gamma neurons. J Cell Sci. PubMed ID: 32152181
The mechanisms that control intrinsic axon growth potential, and thus axon regeneration following injury, are not well understood. Developmental axon regrowth of Drosophila mushroom body gamma neurons during neuronal remodeling offers a unique opportunity to study the molecular mechanisms controlling intrinsic growth potential. Motivated by the recently uncovered developmental expression atlas of gamma neurons, this study focused on the role of the actin severing protein cofilin during axon regrowth. Twinstar (Tsr), the fly cofilin, is a crucial regulator of both axon growth and branching during developmental remodeling of gamma neurons. tsr mutant axons demonstrate growth defects both in vivo and in vitro and also exhibit actin rich filopodial-like structures at failed branch points in vivo. These data is inconsistent with Tsr being important for increasing G-actin availability. Furthermore, analysis of microtubule localization suggests that Tsr is required for microtubule infiltration into the axon tips and branch points. Taken together, this study shows that Tsr promotes axon growth and branching, likely by clearing F-actin to facilitate microtubules protrusion.
Balakrishnan, M., Yu, S. F., Chin, S. M., Soffar, D. B., Windner, S. E., Goode, B. L. and Baylies, M. K. (2020). Cofilin Loss in Drosophila Muscles Contributes to Muscle Weakness through Defective Sarcomerogenesis during Muscle Growth. Cell Rep 32(3): 107893. PubMed ID: 32697999
Sarcomeres, the fundamental contractile units of muscles, are conserved structures composed of actin thin filaments and myosin thick filaments. How sarcomeres are formed and maintained is not well understood. This study shows that knockdown of Drosophila cofilin (DmCFL), an actin depolymerizing factor, disrupts both sarcomere structure and muscle function. The loss of DmCFL also results in the formation of sarcomeric protein aggregates and impairs sarcomere addition during growth. The activation of the proteasome delays muscle deterioration in in this model. Furthermore, this study investigated how a point mutation in CFL2 that causes nemaline myopathy (NM) in humans affects CFL function and leads to the muscle phenotypes observed in vivo. These data provide significant insights to the role of CFLs during sarcomere formation, as well as mechanistic implications for disease progression in NM patients.


Rho GTPases are essential regulators of cytoskeletal reorganization, but how they do so during neuronal morphogenesis in vivo is poorly understood. The actin-depolymerizing and actin-severing protein factor cofilin, encoded by twinstar, is essential for axon growth in Drosophila neurons. Cofilin function in axon growth is inhibited by LIM kinase and activated by Slingshot phosphatase. Dephosphorylating cofilin appears to be the major function of Slingshot in regulating axon growth in vivo. Genetic data provide evidence that Rho or Rac/Cdc42, via effector kinases Rho-associated kinase (Rok, also named Rho kinase or ROCK), or p21-activated kinase (Pak), respectively, activate LIM kinase to inhibit axon growth. Importantly, Rac also activates a Pak-independent pathway that promotes axon growth, and different RacGEFs regulate these distinct pathways. These genetic analyses reveal convergent and divergent pathways from Rho GTPases to the cytoskeleton during axon growth in vivo and suggest that different developmental outcomes could be achieved by biases in pathway selection (Ng, 2004).

From yeast to mammals, cofilin plays an essential morphogenetic role by promoting the rapid turnover of actin filaments through severing filamentous actin (F-actin) and depolymerizing actin filaments from the pointed ends (Bamburg, 1999). Mutations in the twinstar (tsr) gene, which encodes the unique Drosophila homolog of cofilin, result in neuroblast proliferation, spermatogenesis, and defects in epithelial morphogenesis (Gunsalus, 1995; Chen, 2001). Drosophila cofilin was first identified in a screen for genes that induce aberrant cell shapes in fission yeast (Edwards, 1994). In mammalian cells, cofilin activity is inhibited by phosphorylation at serine 3, which is mediated by LIM kinase (LIMK). LIMK is activated through phosphorylation by Pak or Rok effector kinases for Rac/Cdc42 or Rho, respectively. In Drosophila, one LIMK gene has been found that can also phosphorylate cofilin at serine 3 (LIMK1-Flybase) (Ohashi, 2000), but how LIMK1 is regulated is unknown. Cofilin is dephosphorylated by Slingshotphosphatase (Ssh) (Niwa, 2002). Drosophila ssh mutants exhibit defects in epithelial morphogenesis that are characterized by high levels of F-actin and cofilin phosphorylation, suggesting that Ssh regulates actin dynamics through cofilin dephosphorylation (Ng, 2004 and references therein).

The function and regulation of cofilin in neuronal morphogenesis in vivo has not been reported. Loss of cofilin is shown to result in severe axon growth defects in Drosophila neurons. Cofilin function is positively regulated by Ssh phosphatase and negatively regulated by LIMK during axon growth. Cofilin dephosphorylation appears to be the major function of Ssh, since axon growth defects in ssh mutant neurons are suppressed by expressing active forms of cofilin. Genetic evidence is provided that both the Rho-Rok and the Rac/Cdc42-Pak pathways positively regulate Drosophila LIMK. Importantly, while the LIMK pathway acts to inhibit axon growth, Rac also signals through a Pak-independent pathway that acts antagonistically to LIMK to promote axon growth. Furthermore, two distinct RacGEFs appear to be selectively engaged to regulate these different pathways. These genetic results indicate that multiple Rho GTPase signaling pathways converge on a common downstream target, cofilin, to regulate axon growth. At the same time, Rho GTPases also regulate divergent downstream pathways that act in an antagonistic fashion to coordinate growth cone motility (Ng, 2004).

Using Drosophila mushroom body neurons as a genetic model, several signaling pathways through which Rho GTPases regulate axon growth in vivo were examined. Several new insights were obtained from these genetic analyses. Actin polymerization at the cellular leading edge is generally thought to provide the driving force for membrane protrusions such as lamellar extension in migrating cells or filopodia and lamellipodia extensions for neuronal growth cone advance. Cofilin was found to be essential for axon growth in vivo. Since cofilin has both pointed-end depolymerization activity and F-actin severing activity, there are at least two possible explanations, on the basis of biochemical and cell biological studies in other cell types, for its essential role in axon growth (e.g., Carlier, 1997; Svitkina, 1999; Dawe, 2003; Ghosh, 2004). (1) Actin polymerization at the leading edge requires a constant supply of monomeric actin subunits derived from depolymerization at the pointed end. (2) The severing activity of cofilin allows generation of free barbed ends as templates for actin polymerization. While the contributions of either of the above processes to axon growth have not been ruled out, it was found that loss of cofilin does not simply result in a lack of filopodia or lamellipodia. Instead, the overabundance of filopodia- and lamellipodia-like structures retained in cofilin mutant axons suggests a third possibility: growth cone advance is inhibited when filopodia/lamellipodia cannot be disassembled upon the loss of cofilin activity (Ng, 2004).

How is cofilin activity regulated during axon growth? LIM Kinase and Ssh Phosphatase are known to be key regulators of cofilin in axon growth. A number of recent studies have addressed the role of cofilin phosphorylation by LIM-kinase and Ssh phosphatase in cultured neurons. For example, overexpression of active forms of cofilin in rat cortical neurons results in an increase in both the number of filopodia and the degree of neurite extension (Meberg, 2000). Overexpression of active forms of LIMK in chick dorsal root ganglion neurons represses growth cone motility and neurite extension. The LIMK effects are likely to be mediated through cofilin, since cotransfection of either mammalian Ssh or the S3A form of cofilin suppresses the LIMK effects (Endo, 2003). Cofilin phosphorylation by LIMK (Aizawa, 2001) is further implicated in semaphorin-mediated growth cone collapse (Ng, 2004).

In vivo study in Drosophila confirms and extends these in vitro studies in several ways. (1) Using a transgenic rescue assay, it was shown that neither phosphomimetic (S3E) nor nonphosphorylatable (S3A) cofilin or their combination can replace endogenous cofilin function. This suggests that cycles of cofilin phosphorylation ('inactivation') and dephosphorylation ('reactivation') are important during actin turnover to promote axon growth and that in vivo the factors that regulate cofilin phosphorylation must act in a delicate balance to optimize axon growth during development. (2) Loss of Ssh is shown to result in axon growth defects, and these defects can be suppressed by the expression of active cofilin, demonstrating that the major function of Ssh in regulating axon growth is cofilin dephosphorylation. (3) LIMK overexpression is shown to result in axon growth defects analogous to ssh, and this phenotype can be suppressed by the coexpression of Ssh or active cofilin. Taken together with existing biochemical data, these results firmly establish that regulation of cofilin phosphorylation by Ssh phosphatase and LIMK plays a pivotal role in regulating axon growth in vivo (Ng, 2004).

Although cofilin phosphorylation is essential for neuroblast proliferation, neither LIMK nor Ssh appears to be a key regulator. No cell proliferation defects were detected in ssh-/- neuroblast clones or in LIMK1-overexpressing neurons, in contrast to tsr-/- clones. It is unlikely that cell proliferation is less sensitive to the reduction of cofilin activity than is axon growth. On the contrary, neuroblast clones homozygous for a hypomorphic allele of tsr (tsr1) have strong defects in cell proliferation, but no defects in axon growth. Taken together, these data suggest that cofilin phosphorylation during cell proliferation is regulated by a set of kinases/phosphatases different from those that regulate axon growth (Ng, 2004).

Genetic analyses show that Rho, Cdc42, and Rac all contribute to activation of the LIMK1 pathway, which leads to axon growth inhibition. However, previous cell biological data in vitro (Kozma, 1997) and loss-of-function mutant analysis in vivo (Lundquist 2001; Hakeda-Suzuki, 2002; Ng, 2002) indicate that Rac GTPases act to promote axon growth. How can one resolve these seemingly opposite effects of Rac GTPases? Several lines of evidence are provided that, in addition to activating LIMK1, Rac GTPases also act via a second pathway to promote axon growth. (1) Reduction of Rac GTPase activity can also enhance the LIMK1 overexpression phenotype, suggesting that Rac can act antagonistically to LIMK1 to promote axon growth. (2) Overexpressing Rac1 Y40C (a mutant with diminished binding to Pak) strongly suppresses the LIMK1 overexpression phenotype. Since Pak activation leads to axon growth inhibition and Pak-/- neuroblast clones do not have axon growth defects, these data together suggest that the Rac pathway that counteracts the LIMK pathway is Pak independent, which is consistent with previous studies in which transgenically supplied Rac1 Y40C rescued axon growth in the absence of all endogenous Rac (Ng, 2002). (3) Two different RacGEFs have been shown to either enhance or suppress the LIMK pathway. This again suggests that different Rac signaling pathways act antagonistically to regulate axon growth (Ng, 2004).

Given the presence of these two Rac GTPase pathways (LIMK1--->Twinstar dependent and independent pathways), it is likely that, depending on the signaling context, Rac can either inhibit or promote axon growth. Indeed, Rac activation has been shown to either promote or inhibit axon growth in different systems (reviewed in Luo, 2000). In addition, both attractive and repulsive axon guidance cues can signal through Rac GTPases to mediate these opposite effects in vivo. It is proposed that one possible explanation for the above phenomena is that different cues selectively favor either the Pak/LIMK/cofilin phosphorylation pathway or the alternative axon growth-promoting pathway, resulting in different developmental outcomes. The finding that two RacGEFs (Trio and Still life) have opposite effects in modifying LIMK activity suggests that the selection of these pathways could be achieved by selectively engaging different GEFs. How RacGEFs selectively couple to different downstream effector pathways remains to be determined by future experiments (Ng, 2004).

Rac activation stimulates actin polymerization and leads to cell protrusions via lamellipodia formation. However, testing of several major classes of actin polymerization stimulators did not provide evidence that Rac promotes axon growth through the actin polymerization pathway. For instance, the SCAR-Arp2/3 pathway essential for de novo actin polymerization does not appear to contribute to MB axon growth in vivo. This is consistent with a recent study suggesting that the Arp2/3 pathway is also not essential for axon growth in cultured neurons. Although the anticapping protein Enabled is essential for MB axon growth, genetic interaction data argue against its participation in the axon growth-promoting pathway downstream of Rac. This is also consistent with previous genetic analysis in C. elegans, indicating that Rac (Ced-10) and Ena (Unc-34) act in parallel pathways downstream of the netrin receptor to promote axon growth. Another possibility for the axon growth-promoting pathway is that Rac counteracts the LIMK pathway by activating Ssh. Recent in vitro data suggest that Rac can act to dephosphorylate cofilin (Nagata-Ohashi, 2004), thereby promoting actin turnover. However, it is believed that the Rac-dependent axon growth pathway is unlikely to be via Ssh alone, given that, in the absence of ssh, Rac Y40C overexpression can still suppress the ssh growth phenotype. Since axon growth also requires the regulation of microtubule dynamics and vesicle trafficking, both of which are thought to be Rho GTPase dependent, it is proposed that the Rac-mediated axon growth-promoting pathway may involve these processes (Ng, 2004).

In summary, genetic analyses have begun to tease apart the complex signaling networks between Rho GTPases and the actin cytoskeleton in the context of axon growth in vivo. Rho GTPases act through convergent and divergent signaling pathways to regulate axon growth. In addition to cofilin regulation, analyses of other actin polymerization regulators in MB neurons have established the relationship between these signaling pathways and the regulation of axon growth. The pathways identified in this study provide a foundation for future investigations as to how extracellular cues direct growth cone signaling to precisely wire neural circuits in vivo (Ng, 2004).

Retrograde BMP signaling modulates rapid activity-dependent synaptic growth via presynaptic LIM kinase regulation of cofilin

The Drosophila neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is capable of rapidly budding new presynaptic varicosities over the course of minutes in response to elevated neuronal activity. Using live imaging of synaptic growth, this dynamic process was characterized, and it was demonstrated that rapid bouton budding requires retrograde bone morphogenic protein (BMP) signaling and local alteration in the presynaptic actin cytoskeleton. BMP acts during development to provide competence for rapid synaptic growth by regulating the levels of the Rho-type guanine nucleotide exchange factor Trio, a transcriptional output of BMP-Smad signaling. In a parallel pathway, it was found that the BMP type II receptor Wit signals through the effector protein LIM domain kinase 1 (Limk) to regulate bouton budding. Limk interfaces with structural plasticity by controlling the activity of the actin depolymerizing protein Cofilin. Expression of constitutively active or inactive Cofilin (Twinstar) in motor neurons demonstrates that increased Cofilin activity promotes rapid bouton formation in response to elevated synaptic activity. Correspondingly, the overexpression of Limk, which inhibits Cofilin, inhibits bouton budding. Live imaging of the presynaptic F-actin cytoskeleton reveals that activity-dependent bouton addition is accompanied by the formation of new F-actin puncta at sites of synaptic growth. Pharmacological disruption of actin turnover inhibits bouton budding, indicating that local changes in the actin cytoskeleton at pre-existing boutons precede new budding events. It is proposed that developmental BMP signaling potentiates NMJs for rapid activity-dependent structural plasticity that is achieved by muscle release of retrograde signals that regulate local presynaptic actin cytoskeletal dynamics (Piccioli, 2014).

Activity-dependent changes in synaptic structure play an important role in developmental wiring of the nervous system. The Drosophila larval neuromuscular junction (NMJ) has emerged as a model glutamatergic synapse that is well suited to study activity-dependent structural plasticity. The NMJ can be imaged in vivo during developmental periods of rapid synaptic growth when the axonal terminal expands ~5- to 10-fold in size over 5 d. Forward genetic screens to identify mutations that alter synaptic growth have revealed essential roles for retrograde bone morphogenic protein (BMP) signaling mediated by the secreted ligand Glass bottom boat (Gbb). Mutations that disrupt BMP signaling lead to synaptic undergrowth and neurotransmitter release defects. Multiple pathways downstream of retrograde BMP signaling through the type II receptor Wishful thinking (Wit) have been linked to synaptic growth, synapse stability, and homeostatic plasticity in Drosophila. BMP signaling via the Smad transcription factor Mothers against Dpp (Mad) regulates the expression of the Rho-type guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) trio to control normal synaptic growth. Wit also interacts with LIM domain kinase 1 (Limk) to enhance synaptic stabilization in a pathway parallel to canonical Smad-dependent signaling. BMP signaling through Wit also potentiates synapses for homeostatic plasticity in a pathway that is independent of limk and synaptic growth regulation (Piccioli, 2014).

The NMJ displays acute structural plasticity in the form of rapid presynaptic bouton budding in response to elevated levels of neuronal activity. These rapidly generated presynaptic varicosities, referred to as ghost boutons, lack presynaptic and postsynaptic transmission machinery when initially formed. The budding of ghost boutons requires retrograde signaling mediated by the postsynaptic Ca2+-sensitive vesicle trafficking regulator synaptotagmin (Syt) 4 (Korkut, 2013). Syt4 also participates in developmental synaptic growth and controls retrograde signaling that mediates enhanced spontaneous release at the NMJ (Yoshihara, 2005; Barber, 2009). Beyond the role of Syt4 in ghost bouton budding, little is known about the signaling pathways that underlie this rapid form of structural synaptic plasticity. In particular, it is unclear whether pathways that regulate synaptic growth over the longer time scales of larval development also trigger acute structural plasticity. To address these issues, this study identified synaptic pathways that are required for rapid structural plasticity at Drosophila NMJs. Ghost bouton budding was found to be locally regulated at the synapse level, occurring in axons that have been severed from the neuronal cell body. In addition, activity-induced ghost bouton formation requires Syt1-mediated neurotransmitter release and postsynaptic glutamate receptor function. Like developmental growth, retrograde BMP signaling is required for ghost bouton budding. BMP signaling functions through a permissive role mediated by developmental Smad and Trio signaling, as well as through a local Wit-dependent modulation of Limk and Cofilin (Twinstar) activity that alters presynaptic actin dynamics (Piccioli, 2014).

Experimental analysis of ghost bouton budding at the Drosophila NMJ indicates that rapid activity-dependent synaptic growth requires retrograde BMP signaling at this synapse. The current data support a model in which BMP signaling through the type II receptor Wit is required developmentally to potentiate synapses for budding in response to elevated synaptic activity. This pathway requires Smad-dependent expression of the Rho-type GEF trio, and parallels a requirement for BMP signaling and Trio in developmental synaptic growth that occurs during the larval stages. In a parallel pathway, Wit interaction with Limk inhibits bouton budding through regulation of Cofilin activity. Both pathways regulate the synaptic actin cytoskeleton and may converge on similar actin regulatory molecules such as Limk and Cofilin via Rac1 or RhoA. Manipulating Cofilin activity levels by the overexpression of Limk or the expression of constitutively active/inactive Cofilin demonstrates that high Cofilin activity favors bouton budding, while low Cofilin activity inhibits budding. Local changes in the actin cytoskeleton that accompany activity-dependent bouton budding were also observed at sites of new synaptic growth. In addition, pharmacological disruption of normal actin turnover inhibits budding, suggesting that increased actin turnover mediated by Cofilin potentiates rapid activity-dependent synaptic plasticity (Piccioli, 2014).

Multiple genetic perturbations of BMP signaling were identified that altered the frequency of activity-dependent bouton budding at the NMJ. Although several of these mechanisms are shared with those previously characterized to control BMP-mediated developmental synaptic growth, several manipulations separated rapid activity-dependent BMP-mediated bouton budding from the slower forms of developmental growth. In the case of wit mutants or motor neuron overexpression of dad, a reduction in baseline bouton number was observed that showed varying degrees of severity. Wit mutants displayed strongly undergrown synapses, while dad overexpression animals had only modest synaptic undergrowth. In contrast, both these manipulations strongly suppressed ghost bouton budding. Additionally, synaptic undergrowth with partial knockdown of Gbb using postsynaptic RNAi was not observed, while this manipulation caused a strong reduction in ghost bouton budding. These observations indicate that rapid ghost bouton budding is more sensitive to modest perturbations in BMP signaling compared with developmental synaptic growth. One explanation for this differential sensitivity is that BMP signaling potentiates NMJs for activity-dependent bouton budding via transcriptional regulation of molecular components that are not required for normal synaptic growth. Alternatively, similar molecular pathways are required, but at different levels of output. In particular, trio mutants display a less severe synaptic undergrowth phenotype than wit mutants, but show similarly severe defects in ghost bouton budding. Because trio expression is strongly dependent on BMP signaling (Ball, 2010), a modest reduction in BMP output could reduce Trio levels such that ghost bouton budding is significantly reduced, while normal synaptic growth is less affected. It will be interesting to determine in future studies whether the developmental role for BMP signaling for acute structural plasticity shares a critical period as has recently been found for BMP function during developmental synaptic growth (Piccioli, 2014).

Given the requirement of the postsynaptic Ca2+ sensor Syt4 for normal levels of ghost bouton budding, an attractive model is that BMP is released acutely in response to elevated activity through the fusion of Syt4-positive postsynaptic vesicles. However, the current analysis indicates that retrograde BMP signaling through trio transcriptional upregulation is unlikely to be an instructive cue for bouton budding, as the severing of axons and the inhibition of retrograde trafficking of P-Mad before stimulation does not reduce budding in response to elevated activity. It is possible that synaptic P-Mad may play an instructional role in ghost bouton budding, as a local decrease in budding frequency was observed when Gbb expression was specifically reduced in muscle 6. Neuronal overexpression of dad also reduced synaptic P-Mad. Therefore, dad overexpression could inhibit ghost bouton budding by decreasing synaptic P-Mad signaling, in addition to decreasing nuclear Smad signaling. However, no dosage-dependent genetic interactions were observed between syt4 and wit, suggesting that Syt4 may participate in a separate pathway to regulate ghost bouton budding. Activity-dependent fusion of Syt4 postsynaptic vesicles (Yoshihara, 2005) could release a separate unidentified retrograde signal that provides an instructive cue for budding that would function in parallel to a developmental requirement for retrograde BMP signaling (Piccioli, 2014).

In addition to instructive cues from the postsynaptic compartment that trigger ghost bouton budding, the presynaptic nerve terminal must have molecular machines in place to read out these signals and execute the budding event. The regulation of Rho GTPases via Rho GEFs and GAPs downstream of extracellular cues is an attractive mechanism, as these proteins play critical roles in the regulation of neuronal morphology and axonal guidance. Several studies have shown that retrograde synaptic signaling regulates Rho GTPase activity to alter synaptic function and growth in Drosophila (Tolias, 2011). Ghost bouton budding mediated by developmental BMP signaling also shares some similarities with mechanisms underlying homeostatic plasticity at Drosophila NMJs. The Eph receptor is required for synaptic homeostasis at the NMJ, and it interfaces with developmental BMP signaling via Wit. While Eph receptor-mediated homeostatic plasticity predominantly requires the downstream RhoA-type GEF Ephexin, the Eph receptor may also signal through Rac1. Drosophila VAP-33A may also act as a ligand for synaptic Eph receptors, as it has been shown to regulate NMJ morphology and growth, while preferentially localizing to sites of bouton budding. The current analysis indicates that the levels of Trio, which functions as a Rho-type GEF, are bidirectionally correlated with ghost bouton budding activity and that overexpressed Trio is localized to ghost boutons after budding. As such, acute Trio regulation represents another attractive pathway for rapidly modifying bouton budding activity (Piccioli, 2014).

Rho GTPase signaling can produce distinct effects in differing systems and cell types depending on the presence or absence of downstream effectors, although most of these pathways ultimately impinge on regulation of the actin cytoskeletal. Indeed, this study has found a key role for Limk regulation of Cofilin activity in the control of ghost bouton budding. The current findings indicate that Limk activity normally functions to inhibit the formation of ghost boutons, as neuronal overexpression of Limk strongly suppressed activity-dependent bouton budding. Consistent with an inhibitory role for Limk, Cofilin activity promotes budding, while the overexpression of an inactive Cofilin inhibited budding. The expression of mutant Cofilin transgenes resulted in visible changes to the presynaptic actin cytoskeleton at NMJs, indicating that these manipulations likely alter rapid budding events by changing local actin dynamics at sites of potential growth. Using live imaging of F-actin dynamics before and after bouton budding, the formation of new F-actin puncta was observed at sites of bouton budding. Elevated Cofilin activity is sufficient to increase ghost bouton budding frequency, and is predicted to increase actin turnover and the formation of F-actin structures. Pharmacological disruption of actin polymerization dynamics also disrupts rapid bouton addition in response to elevated activity (Piccioli, 2014).

These findings support a model whereby Wit has opposing signaling roles with respect to bouton budding. Providing a permissive role via Smad signaling and an inhibitory role via Limk activation may provide for a system in which increased potential for rapid synaptic expansion is directly coupled to enhanced synaptic stability. This coupling could set a threshold for ghost bouton budding downstream of synaptic activity. In the background of moderate or low synaptic activity, Limk prevents ghost bouton budding. When synaptic activity is elevated, additional signaling events promote new synaptic growth by either reducing or outcompeting Limk activity, with a concurrent activation of Cofilin. Decreased Limk activity downstream of extracellular cues has been shown to regulate cell morphology in other systems as well, providing an attractive mechanism for rapid activity-dependent regulation of synaptic structure at Drosophila NMJs (Piccioli, 2014).

F-actin dismantling through a redox-driven synergy between Mical and cofilin

Numerous cellular functions depend on actin filament (F-actin) disassembly. The best-characterized disassembly proteins, the ADF (actin-depolymerizing factor)/cofilins (encoded by the twinstar gene in Drosophila), sever filaments and recycle monomers to promote actin assembly. Cofilin is also a relatively weak actin disassembler, posing questions about mechanisms of cellular F-actin destabilization. This study uncovered a key link to targeted F-actin disassembly by finding that F-actin is efficiently dismantled through a post-translational-mediated synergism between cofilin and the actin-oxidizing enzyme Mical. Mical-mediated oxidation of actin improves cofilin binding to filaments, where their combined effect dramatically accelerates F-actin disassembly compared with either effector alone. This synergism is also necessary and sufficient for F-actin disassembly in vivo, magnifying the effects of both Mical and cofilin on cellular remodelling, axon guidance and Semaphorin-Plexin repulsion. Mical and cofilin, therefore, form a redox-dependent synergistic pair that promotes F-actin instability by rapidly dismantling F-actin and generating post-translationally modified actin that has altered assembly properties (Grintsevich, 2016).

This study found that Mical and cofilin function as a pair, synergizing in a Redox-dependent post-translational manner to disassemble F-actin and to control different cellular behaviors. Specifically, cofilin is a well-established actin regulatory protein and a relatively weak severer of F-actin. In contrast, Mical family Redox enzymes have only recently emerged downstream of Semaphorin-Plexin repellents as actin disassembly factors acting via the direct post-translational oxidation of actin. Previous work has also revealed that Mical, whose C-terminus associates with the intracellular portion of the Semaphorin transmembrane receptor plexin, binds with its N-terminal NADPH-dependent Redox domain to F-actin and selectively oxidizes actin's methionine-44 and 47 residues. It is proposed that Mical oxidation-induced changes in filament structure and/or dynamics improve cofilin's binding to actin filaments. This study also found that Mical-oxidized actin copolymers have different properties than unoxidized actin filaments. It is also known that the severing of actin filaments by cofilin is related to the mechanical properties of F-actin. The results support the idea that Mical uses oxidation to weaken the inter-actin (inter-protomer) contacts within filaments and these alterations dramatically speed up cofilin's ability to break/dismantle filaments. These results, therefore, uncover a previously unknown pathway of cellular F-actin disassembly and also present an unusual type of biological synergistic interaction -- one involving two different types of proteins (Mical and cofilin) and the Redox-dependent post-translational modification of a third protein (polymerized actin) (Grintsevich, 2016).

The results also shed new light on the mechanisms of action of both Mical and cofilin. They support a model that Mical and cofilin have been evolutionarily selected to work in tandem to ensure that even a low level of Mical activity in the presence of cofilin would facilitate F-actin disassembly, and vice versa. Moreover, unlike F-actin disassembly by cofilin, which promotes actin turnover by recirculation of monomers for polymerization, Mical post-translationally modifies actin, decreasing its capacity for re-polymerization until the oxidation is reversed. Thus, the Redox-driven synergy between Mical and cofilin not only rapidly disassembles F-actin but also generates post-translationally modified actin that re-assembles abnormally with a net effect of promoting F-actin instability. These results, therefore, provide important insights into how actin-based structures are rapidly and specifically dismantled in cells. Given their widespread overlapping expression patterns and diverse effects on cellular behaviors, this synergistic interaction between Mical and cofilin provides the molecular framework to rapidly dismantle multiple actin-based cellular structures (Grintsevich, 2016).


cDNA clone length - 771

Bases in 5' UTR - 168

Exons - 4

Bases in 3' UTR - 156


Amino Acids - 148

Structural Domains

See SMART (Simple Modular Architecture Research Tool) for information of Twinstar structure.

twinstar: Evolutionary Homologs | Regulation | Developmental Biology | Effects of Mutation | References

date revised: 20 February 2005

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