Building arborisations of the right size and shape is fundamental for neural network function. Live imaging in vertebrate brains strongly suggests that nascent synapses are critical for branch growth during development. The molecular mechanisms underlying this are largely unknown. Here we present a novel system in Drosophila for studying the development of complex arborisations live, in vivo during metamorphosis. In growing arborisations we see branch dynamics and localisations of presynaptic proteins very similar to the 'synaptotropic growth' described in fish/frogs. These accumulations of presynaptic proteins do not appear to be presynaptic release sites and are not paired with neurotransmitter receptors. Knockdowns of either evoked or spontaneous neurotransmission do not impact arbor growth. Instead, we find that axonal branch growth is regulated by dynamic, focal localisations of Neurexin and Neuroligin. These adhesion complexes provide stability for filopodia by a 'stick-and-grow' based mechanism wholly independent of synaptic activity.
Spider sensory neurons with cell bodies close to various sensory organs are innervated by putative efferent axons from the central nervous system (CNS). Light and electronmicroscopic imaging of immunolabeled neurons has demonstrated that neurotransmitters present at peripheral synapses include γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), glutamate and octopamine. Moreover, electrophysiological studies show that these neurotransmitters modulate the sensitivity of peripheral sensory neurons. Here, we undertook immunocytochemical investigations to characterize GABA and glutamate-immunoreactive neurons in three-dimensional reconstructions of the spider CNS. We document that both neurotransmitters are abundant in morphologically distinct neurons throughout the CNS. Labeling for the vesicular transporters, VGAT for GABA and VGLUT for glutamate, showed corresponding patterns, supporting the specificity of antibody binding. Whereas some neurons displayed strong immunolabeling, others were only weakly labeled. Double labeling showed that a subpopulation of weakly labeled neurons present in all ganglia expresses both GABA and glutamate. Double labeled, strongly and weakly labeled GABA and glutamate immunoreactive axons were also observed in the periphery along muscle fibers and peripheral sensory neurons. Electron microscopic investigations showed presynaptic profiles of various diameters with mixed vesicle populations innervating muscle tissue as well as sensory neurons. Our findings provide evidence that: (1) sensory neurons and muscle fibers are innervated by morphologically distinct, centrally located GABA- and glutamate immunoreactive neurons; (2) a subpopulation of these neurons may co-release both neurotransmitters; and (3) sensory neurons and muscles are innervated by all of these neurochemically and morphologically distinct types of neurons. The biochemical diversity of presynaptic innervation may contribute to how spiders filter natural stimuli and coordinate appropriate response patterns.