A Distinct Perisynaptic Glial Cell Type Forms Tripartite Neuromuscular Synapses in the Drosophila Adult

Previous studies of Drosophila flight muscle neuromuscular synapses have revealed their tripartite architecture and established an attractive experimental model for genetic analysis of glial function in synaptic transmission. Here we extend these findings by defining a new Drosophila glial cell type, designated peripheral perisynaptic glia (PPG), which resides in the periphery and interacts specifically with fine motor axon branches forming neuromuscular synapses. Identification and specific labeling of PPG was achieved through cell type-specific RNAi-mediated knockdown (KD) of a glial marker, Glutamine Synthetase 2 (GS2). In addition, comparison among different Drosophila neuromuscular synapse models from adult and larval developmental stages indicated the presence of tripartite synapses on several different muscle types in the adult. In contrast, PPG appear to be absent from larval body wall neuromuscular synapses, which do not exhibit a tripartite architecture but rather are imbedded in the muscle plasma membrane. Evolutionary conservation of tripartite synapse architecture and peripheral perisynaptic glia in vertebrates and Drosophila suggests ancient and conserved roles for glia-synapse interactions in synaptic transmission.