Katie Thompson-Peer: Fruit Flies as a Model to Study Dendrite Regeneration

The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is widely used for biological research.

That's true for assistant professor Katie Thompson-Peer of the Department of Developmental and Cell Biology, UC Irvine, who will speak on "Cellular Mechanisms of Dendrite Regeneration after Neuron Injury” at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar on Wednesday, May 24.

She uses the larvae and adult fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as a model to study dendrite regeneration.

Thompson-Peer will present her seminar at 4:10 p.m. in Room 122, Briggs Hall. Her seminar also will be virtual. The Zoom link: https://ucdavis.zoom.us/j/95882849672 

Her abstract: “Neurons have two types of cellular projections, that are essential for how they function in circuits: they have a single axon and a highly branched network of dendrites. These dendrites are the cellular structures that allow neurons to receive input from the environment or from other neurons. While much is known about how axons respond to injury, almost nothing is known about how neurons respond to dendrite injury. We have found that after dendrite injury, peripheral nervous system neurons are able to mount a reliable, reproducible process of dendrite regeneration. In this talk, I present our recent work to determine how neurons detect injury to their dendrites, using the larvae and adult fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model to study dendrite regeneration.”

Thompson-Peer, who joined UC Irvine in April 2019, received her bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania, and then followed with a two-year stint at the Johns Hopkins University with Alex Kolodkin. She earned her doctorate from Harvard University, working with Josh Kaplan, and was a postdoctoral fellow with Yuh-Nung and Lily Jan at UC San Francisco and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Her postdoctoral work drew financial support from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke F32 and K99/R00 fellowships, as well as a UC Office of the President's Postdoctoral Fellowship. 

The Thompson-Peer lab explores how neurons recover from injury in vivo, and how this process is similar to and different from normal development. (See her work showcased on YouTube)

"At the most fundamental level, a neuron receives information along dendrites, and sends information down an axon to synaptic contacts," she writes on her website. "Dendrites can be injured by traumatic brain injury, stroke, and many forms of neurodegeneration, yet while the factors that control axon regeneration after injury have been extensively studied, we know almost nothing about dendrite regeneration. Our long-term research goal is to understand the cellular mechanisms of dendrite regeneration after injury."

"Our previous work found that the sensory neurons in the fruit fly Drosophila peripheral nervous system exhibit robust regeneration of dendrites after injury and used this system to explore central features of dendrite regeneration in developing animals, young adults, and aging adults. We have observed that after injury, neurons regrow dendrites that recreate some features of uninjured dendrites, but are unable to reconstruct an entire arbor that perfectly mimics an uninjured neuron. Moreover, there are mechanistic differences between the outgrowth of uninjured neurons versus the regeneration of dendrites after injury: dendrite regeneration is uniquely dependent on neuronal activity, ignores cues that constrain and pattern normal dendrite outgrowth, and confronts a mature tissue environment that is different from what a developing neuron would encounter. These challenges are significantly exacerbated when neurons in aging animals attempt to recover from injury."

Department seminar coordinator is urban landscape entomologist Emily Meineke,  assistant professor.   For technical issues regarding Zoom connections, she may be reached at ekmeineke@ucdavis.edu. (See complete list of spring seminars.)