Cell death triggers olfactory circuit plasticity via glial signaling in Drosophila
The Drosophila antennal lobe is organized into glomerular compartments, where olfactory receptor neurons synapse onto projection neurons. Projection neuron dendrites also receive input from local neurons, which interconnect glomeruli. In this study, we investigated how activity in this circuit changes over time when sensory afferents are chronically removed in vivo. In the normal circuit, excitatory connections between glomeruli are weak. However, after we chronically severed receptor neuron axons projecting to a subset of glomeruli, we found that odor-evoked lateral excitatory input to deafferented projection neurons was potentiated severalfold. This was caused, at least in part, by strengthened electrical coupling from excitatory local neurons onto projection neurons, as well as increased activity in excitatory local neurons. Merely silencing receptor neurons was not sufficient to elicit these changes, implying that severing receptor neuron axons is the relevant signal. When we expressed the neuroprotective gene Wallerian degeneration slow (Wld(S)) in receptor neurons before severing their axons, this blocked the induction of plasticity. Because expressing Wld(S) prevents severed axons from recruiting glia, this result suggests a role for glia. Consistent with this, we found that blocking endocytosis in ensheathing glia blocked the induction of plasticity. In sum, these results reveal a novel injury response whereby severed sensory axons recruit glia, which in turn signal to central neurons to upregulate their activity. By strengthening excitatory interactions between neurons in a deafferented brain region, this mechanism might help boost activity to compensate for lost sensory input.