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Title: Temporal signals drive the emergence of multicellular information networks
Coordinated responses to environmental stimuli are critical for multicellular organisms. To overcome the obstacles of cell-to-cell heterogeneity and noisy signaling dynamics within individual cells, cells must effectively exchange information with peers. However, the dynamics and mechanisms of collective information transfer driven by external signals are poorly understood. Here we investigate the calcium dynamics of neuronal cells that form confluent monolayers and respond to cyclic ATP stimuli in microfluidic devices. Using Granger inference to reconstruct the underlying causal relations between the cells, we find that the cells self-organize into spatially decentralized and temporally stationary networks to support information transfer via gap junction channels. The connectivity of the causal networks depends on the temporal profile of the external stimuli, where short periods, or long periods with small duty fractions, lead to reduced connectivity and fractured network topology. We build a theoretical model based on communicating excitable units that reproduces our observations. The model further predicts that connectivity of the causal network is maximal at an optimal communication strength, which is confirmed by the experiments. Together, our results show that information transfer between neuronal cells is externally regulated by the temporal profile of the stimuli and internally regulated by cell–cell communication.  more » « less
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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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It was proposed in Caenorhabditis elegans that unique combinations of terminal selector transcription factors (TFs) that are continuously expressed in each neuron control nearly all of its type-specific gene expression. This model implies that it should be possible to engineer predictable and complete switches of identity between different neurons just by modifying these sustained TFs. We aimed to test this prediction in the Drosophila visual system. RESULTS Here, we used our developmental scRNA-seq atlases to identify the potential terminal selector genes in all optic lobe neurons. We found unique combinations of, on average, 10 differentially expressed and stably maintained (across all stages of development) TFs in each neuron. Through genetic gain- and loss-of-function experiments in postmitotic neurons, we showed that modifications of these selector codes are sufficient to induce predictable switches of identity between various cell types. Combinations of terminal selectors jointly control both developmental (e.g., morphology) and functional (e.g., neurotransmitters and their receptors) features of neurons. The closely related Transmedullary 1 (Tm1), Tm2, Tm4, and Tm6 neurons (see the figure) share a similar code of terminal selectors, but can be distinguished from each other by three TFs that are continuously and specifically expressed in one of these cell types: Drgx in Tm1, Pdm3 in Tm2, and SoxN in Tm6. We showed that the removal of each of these selectors in these cell types reprograms them to the default Tm4 fate. We validated these conversions using both morphological features and molecular markers. In addition, we performed scRNA-seq to show that ectopic expression of pdm3 in Tm4 and Tm6 neurons converts them to neurons with transcriptomes that are nearly indistinguishable from that of wild-type Tm2 neurons. We also show that Drgx expression in Tm1 neurons is regulated by Klumpfuss, a TF expressed in stem cells that instructs this fate in progenitors, establishing a link between the regulatory programs that specify neuronal fates and those that implement them. We identified an intronic enhancer in the Drgx locus whose chromatin is specifically accessible in Tm1 neurons and in which Klu motifs are enriched. Genomic deletion of this region knocked down Drgx expression specifically in Tm1 neurons, leaving it intact in the other cell types that normally express it. We further validated this concept by demonstrating that ectopic expression of Vsx (visual system homeobox) genes in Mi15 neurons not only converts them morphologically to Dm2 neurons, but also leads to the loss of their aminergic identity. Our results suggest that selector combinations can be further sculpted by receptor tyrosine kinase signaling after neurogenesis, providing a potential mechanism for postmitotic plasticity of neuronal fates. Finally, we combined our transcriptomic datasets with previously generated chromatin accessibility datasets to understand the mechanisms that control brain wiring downstream of terminal selectors. We built predictive computational models of gene regulatory networks using the Inferelator framework. Experimental validations of these networks revealed how selectors interact with ecdysone-responsive TFs to activate a large and specific repertoire of cell surface proteins and other effectors in each neuron at the onset of synapse formation. We showed that these network models can be used to identify downstream effectors that mediate specific cellular decisions during circuit formation. For instance, reduced levels of cut expression in Tm2 neurons, because of its negative regulation by pdm3 , controls the synaptic layer targeting of their axons. Knockdown of cut in Tm1 neurons is sufficient to redirect their axons to the Tm2 layer in the lobula neuropil without affecting other morphological features. CONCLUSION Our results support a model in which neuronal type identity is primarily determined by a relatively simple code of continuously expressed terminal selector TFs in each cell type throughout development. Our results provide a unified framework of how specific fates are initiated and maintained in postmitotic neurons and open new avenues to understanding synaptic specificity through gene regulatory networks. The conservation of this regulatory logic in both C. elegans and Drosophila makes it likely that the terminal selector concept will also be useful in understanding and manipulating the neuronal diversity of mammalian brains. Terminal selectors enable predictive cell fate reprogramming. Tm1, Tm2, Tm4, and Tm6 neurons of the Drosophila visual system share a core set of TFs continuously expressed by each cell type (simplified). The default Tm4 fate is overridden by the expression of a single additional terminal selector to generate Tm1 ( Drgx ), Tm2 ( pdm3 ), or Tm6 ( SoxN ) fates. 
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  2. Lay Summary

    Parts of the brain can work together by synchronizing the activity of the neurons. We recorded the electrical activity of the brain in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder and then compared the recording to that of their peers without the diagnosis. We found that in participants with autism, there were a lot of very short time periods of non‐synchronized activity between frontal and parietal parts of the brain. Mathematical models show that the brain system with this kind of activity is very sensitive to external events.

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  5. Abstract

    During spatial exploration, neural circuits in the hippocampus store memories of sequences of sensory events encountered in the environment. When sensory information is absent during ‘offline’ resting periods, brief neuronal population bursts can ‘replay’ sequences of activity that resemble bouts of sensory experience. These sequences can occur in either forward or reverse order, and can even include spatial trajectories that have not been experienced, but are consistent with the topology of the environment. The neural circuit mechanisms underlying this variable and flexible sequence generation are unknown. Here we demonstrate in a recurrent spiking network model of hippocampal area CA3 that experimental constraints on network dynamics such as population sparsity, stimulus selectivity, rhythmicity and spike rate adaptation, as well as associative synaptic connectivity, enable additional emergent properties, including variable offline memory replay. In an online stimulus‐driven state, we observed the emergence of neuronal sequences that swept from representations of past to future stimuli on the timescale of the theta rhythm. In an offline state driven only by noise, the network generated both forward and reverse neuronal sequences, and recapitulated the experimental observation that offline memory replay events tend to include salient locations like the site of a reward. These results demonstrate that biological constraints on the dynamics of recurrent neural circuits are sufficient to enable memories of sensory events stored in the strengths of synaptic connections to be flexibly read out during rest and sleep, which is thought to be important for memory consolidation and planning of future behaviour.image

    Key points

    A recurrent spiking network model of hippocampal area CA3 was optimized to recapitulate experimentally observed network dynamics during simulated spatial exploration.

    During simulated offline rest, the network exhibited the emergent property of generating flexible forward, reverse and mixed direction memory replay events.

    Network perturbations and analysis of model diversity and degeneracy identified associative synaptic connectivity and key features of network dynamics as important for offline sequence generation.

    Network simulations demonstrate that population over‐representation of salient positions like the site of reward results in biased memory replay.

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