Elucidating the Functions of the Sialylation Pathway in Drosophila melanogaster
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Sialylation is an important carbohydrate modification of glycoconjugates, which introduces sialic acids (SA). The relatively large nine-carbon, negatively charged sugars are typically located at the termini of carbohydrate chains. SA's are often required for functionally important molecular and cellular interactions including virus-host interactions, tumor progression and malignancy, immune system development and function, and nervous system development and function. However, the study of sialylation in vertebrates, including man, encounters serious obstacles associated with the complexity of vertebrates' biology and limitations of available experimental approaches. Drosophila is a useful model system with many advantages including quick generation time, a large number of progeny, simplified glycosylation and neurophysiology, and ease of genetic manipulations. The primary focus of this thesis is on the functions of Drosophila melanogaster CMP sialic acid synthetase (DmCSAS) and sialyltransferase (DSiaT) in the central nervous system (CNS). A combination of genetic, immunostaining, and neurobiology approaches were used to characterize the functions of DmCSAS and DSiaT in Drosophila. This investigation revealed the expression of DmCSAS and suggested that it plays an important role in a specialized and developmentally regulated process in the nervous system of Drosophila. Further experiments examined sub-cellular localization of DmCSAS revealing that this protein has a complex mostly Golgi-associated distribution within the cell in vivo. I discovered a novel link between Drosophila sialylation and circadian rhythm regulation. I also characterized the electrophysiological phenotypes of DmCSAS mutants and compared them to the corresponding defects associated with DSiaT mutations. My experiments also revealed that the relationship between DmCSAS and DSiaT are more complex than originally thought; these genes may have independent functions while also participating in the same pathway. Taken together, these results elucidate the sialylation pathway in Drosophila and shed more light on the role of sialylation in the nervous system. My experiments provide a unique evolutionary perspective on the sialylation pathway in animals and suggest that the neural function of SA in Drosophila can be conserved in vertebrates, including humans.
CMP-sialic acid synthetase
central nervous system
gene regulation and development
Carnahan, Mindy (2011). Elucidating the Functions of the Sialylation Pathway in Drosophila melanogaster. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from