The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 61: 311 - 318 (2017)

Vol 61, Issue 3-4-5

Special Issue: Developmental Biology in Israel

Loss of thrombospondin reveals a possible role for the extracellular matrix in chordotonal cap cell elongation

Published: 2 June 2017

Rina T. Greenblatt Ben-El, Abeer Hassan and Adi Salzberg*

Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology, The Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and Research Institute, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel


In the Drosophila larva, major proprioceptive input is provided to the brain by sub-epidermal stretch receptors called chordotonal organs (ChO). Similarly to the body wall muscle that needs to be attached on both of its sides to the larval exoskeleton in order to generate movement, the sensory unit of a ChO must be stably anchored to the cuticle on both of its sides in order to sense the relative displacement of body parts. Through an RNAi screen we have identified thrombospondin (Tsp), a secreted calcium binding glycoprotein, as a critical component in the anchoring of ChOs to the cuticle. We show that the Tsp protein starts to accumulate in the extracellular matrix (ECM) surrounding the ChO attachment cells towards the end of embryogenesis and that it becomes highly concentrated at the attachment junction during larval stages. In the absence of Tsp, the ChO’s accessory cells fail to form a stable junction with their epidermal attachment cells and organ integrity is not maintained. Tsp is a known player in the establishment of the myotendinous junctions in both invertebrates and vertebrates. Thus, our findings extend the known similarities between muscle-attachment and ChO-attachment cells. In addition to its role in establishing the ChO attachment junctions, Tsp was found to affect ligament cell migration and cap cell elongation. Most interestingly, the Tsp protein was found to decorate the ChO cap cells along their entire length, suggesting that the elongated cap cells are supported by the ECM to which they attach via integrin-based, Tsp-dependent, adhesion plaques. The ECM enwrapping the cap cells is probably important for keeping the cap cells fasciculate and may also provide mechanical support that allows the extremely elongated cells to maintain tension.


chordotonal organ, morphogenesis, cell adhesion, ECM

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