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STEM Fellows: Fragile X Syndrome in Fruit Flies

By Jenny Deveaux and Samantha Sarafin, VI Form

Peripheral Nervous System Deficits and Social Behavior in Drosophila FMR1 Mutants

1.1 Abstract

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Fragile X syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by a trinucleotide repeat mutation in the FMR1 gene, occurring in one in 4,000 males and one in 8,000 females. The syndrome is characterized by a variety of social, learning, and cognitive deficits specific to each patient. The pathways surrounding the expression of the fragile X phenotype are largely unknown, and there is no current treatment for the disorder. Numerous studies have been conducted to investigate the role of the central nervous system in developmental disorders such as Fragile X Syndrome; however, there is a lack of studies focusing on the role of the peripheral nervous system. In our study, we developed a line of Drosophila melanogaster, using the GAL4-UAS system, that expresses the dFMR1 mutation only in the olfactory sensory neurons, a vital part of the Drosophila’s peripheral nervous system. We conducted aggression and courtship assays to test the social behavior of the peripheral dFMR1 mutants. We compared these behavioral results with the results of control wild-type flies and with Drosophila that have the dFMR1 mutation in their entire anatomy. Our preliminary results suggest that both aggression and courtship should be further researched, as it was found that specific characteristics of each social behavior were impaired in some way. The most noteworthy data that was collected was significantly lower courtship index in the experimental line and a complete lack of dominance of the experimental line in the aggression assay. Because the Drosophila that were genetically crossed using the GAL4-UAS system had the dFMR1 gene silenced in their olfactory sensory neurons, the flies had an abnormality in their ability to detect pheromones, which studies show are the basis of Drosophila social interaction and behavior.

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Jenny Deveaux is a VI Form day student from Hopkinton, MA. She plays varsity soccer, is a STEM Fellow, and serves as a Center Ambassador.

Samantha Sarafin is a VI Form boarding student from Lancaster, MA. She loves to row, run, act, and spend time with family.


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