By: Robert Krautz

Title: Drosophila immune responses in a model for epithelial hypertrophy

Opponent: Hugo Stocker, Institute of Molecular Systems Biology, ETH Zűrich, Switzerland



Apoptosis, differentiation and proliferation have to be tightly balanced and thus regulated to maintain tissue homeostasis. Stress, metabolic cues, genetic variability, infections and physiological host-commensal interactions influence this balance and thus need to be integrated. Therefore, beyond the discrimination between self and non-self (i.e., foreign) also damage inflicted on tissues under sterile conditions is perceived by the immune system due to altered tissue integrity. Growing knowledge of the interaction between the immune system and wounded or more generally altered tissues allows inferring on anti-tumorous immune responses, too. Despite the lack of adaptive immunity, Drosophila mounts solid and versatile innate immune responses that functionally and molecularly share many properties with their vertebrate counterparts. In fact, tissue overgrowth, tissue dysplasia or endogenous danger signaling activate systemic Toll-signaling in the fat body indicating a role for the Drosophila immune system in maintaining tissue homeostasis.

Here we characterize systemic and local immune responses towards altered or transformed tissues by using a Drosophila hypertrophy model, which is based on the overexpression of a dominant-active variant of the small GTPase Ras (Ras85DG12V) in salivary glands and wing discs. We characterized the strong induction of hemocyte recruitment to the glands as a consequence of JNK-dependent MMP1-expression and basal membrane degradation. Apart from this cellular immune reaction, transcriptome profiling revealed comprehensive humoral immune responses mounted by the fat body that involved signatures of Toll- and imd-activation. Moreover, a novel tissue-autonomous response that was spatially restricted to the anterior end of the RasV12-expressing salivary gland itself was identified. While multiple immune genes were found to be upregulated in the anterior compartment as detected by RNA sequencing, particular focus was given to the effector peptide Drosomycin (Drs). Overexpression of Drs with RasV12 in the entire gland similar to the inhibition of the JNK-pathway was able to selectively rescue a characteristic set of RasV12-induced phenotypes, which ultimately blocks the recruitment of hemocytes. Thereby, local immune-related responses in RasV12-expressing salivary glands are able to restrict the tissue damage induced by hypertrophic growth.