The peptidergic Pigment-dispersing factor (PDF)-Tri neurons are a group of non-clock neurons that appear transiently around the time of adult ecdysis (=eclosion) in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. This specific developmental pattern points to a function of these neurons in eclosion or other processes that are active around pupal-adult transition. As a first step to understand the role of these neurons, we here characterize the anatomy of the PDF-Tri neurons. In addition, we describe a further set of peptidergic neurons that have been associated with eclosion behavior, eclosion hormone (EH), and crustacean cardioactive peptide (CCAP) neurons, to single cell level in the pharate adult brain. PDF-Tri neurons as well as CCAP neurons co-express a classical transmitter indicated by the occurrence of small clear vesicles in addition to dense-core vesicles containing the peptides. In the tritocerebrum, gnathal ganglion and the superior protocerebrum PDF-Tri neurites contain peptidergic varicosities and both pre- and postsynaptic sites, suggesting that the PDF-Tri neurons represent modulatory rather than pure interneurons that connect the subesophageal zone with the superior protocerebrum. The extensive overlap of PDF-Tri arborizations with neurites of CCAP- and EH-expressing neurons in distinct brain regions provides anatomical evidence for a possible function of the PDF-Tri neurons in eclosion behavior.
A multitude of potential neurotransmitters and neuromodulators, including peptides, have been detected in the antennal lobe (AL), the first synaptic relay of the central olfactory pathway in the insect brain. However, the functional role of neuropeptides in this system has yet to be revealed. An important prerequisite to understanding the role of neuropeptides is to match the functionally different cell types in the AL with their peptide profiles by using electrophysiological recordings combined with immunocytochemical studies and/or single-cell mass spectrometry. The olfactory system of Periplaneta americana is particularly well suited to accomplish this goal because several physiologically distinct neuron types can be unequivocally identified. With the aim to analyze the neuropeptide inventory of the P. americana AL, this study is an essential step in this direction. First, we systematically analyzed different parts of the AL by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time of flight (MALDI-TOF) mass spectrometry to obtain the complete set of neuropeptides present. Altogether, 56 ion signals could be assigned to products of 10 neuropeptide genes (allatostatins A, B, C, SIFamide, allatotropin, FMRFamide-related peptides [myosuppressin, short neuropeptides F, extended FMRFamides], crustacean cardioactive peptide, tachykinin-related peptides). In a second step, a combination of immunocytochemistry and mass spectrometric profiling of defined AL compartments was used to reveal the spatial distribution of neuropeptide-containing cells. Finally, we demonstrated the feasibility of MALDI-TOF mass spectrometric profiling of single AL neurons, which is an important precondition for combining electrophysiology with peptide profiling at the single-cell level.