Investigating the Role of MicroRNAs in Regeneration and Axonal Pathfinding
During both development and regeneration, axons must navigate through a complex and changing environment to reach their proper synaptic target. To do so, axons utilize a specialized structure, the growth cone, which senses and interprets guidance cues in its surrounding environment to change the direction of axonal outgrowth. MicroRNAs, which regulate mRNA translation, have recently been shown to regulate both neurite outgrowth and growth cone guidance in response to classical guidance cues during vertebrate development. However, little is known of their regulation of neuronal regeneration in an invertebrate. Thus, the main aim of this thesis was to study the role of microRNAs during CNS regeneration of the pond snail, Lymnaea stagnalis. Specifically, I determined the expression patterns and relative abundance of microRNAs in the regenerating CNS in response to retinoic acid (RA). Using miRNA-Sequencing, I identified one neuronally enriched microRNA, miR-124, that was up-regulated in RA-induced regenerating CNS. Using PCR and in situ hybridization, I characterized its distribution in the snail CNS, and discovered it shared similar expression patterns to that of vertebrates. In cell culture, I found miR-124 was abundant within regenerating motorneurons and was localized to their growth cones. I next determined that miR-124 contributed to RA-induced growth cone turning behaviour. During attractive growth cone turning to RA, the abundance and distribution of miR-124 was altered, in both a cue and context-dependent manner. Finally, I demonstrated that miR-124 targeted the Rho kinase, ROCK, during turning responses to RA, likely to promote the formation of a neurite shaft, or to maintain growth cone polarity. Together, these findings provide the first evidence for a role of microRNAs in mediating growth cone behaviours to RA in regenerating motorneurons.