Glia actively sculpt sensory neurons by controlled phagocytosis to tune animal behavior

Stephan Raiders, Erik Calvin Black, Andrea Bae, Stephen MacFarlane, Mason Klein, Shai Shaham, Aakanksha Singhvi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Glia in the central nervous system engulf neuron fragments to remodel synapses and recycle photoreceptor outer-segments. Whether glia passively clear shed neuronal debris, or actively prune neuron fragments is unknown. How pruning of single-neuron endings impacts animal behavior is also unclear. Here we report our discovery of glia-directed neuron pruning in C. elegans. Adult C. elegans AMsh glia engulf sensory endings of the AFD thermosensory neuron by repurposing components of the conserved apoptotic corpse phagocytosis machinery. The phosphatidylserine (PS) flippase TAT-1/ATP8A, functions with glial PS-receptor PSR-1/PSR and PAT-2/α-integrin to initiate engulfment. This activates glial CED-10/Rac1 GTPase through the ternary GEF complex of CED-2/CrkII, CED-5/DOCK180, CED-12/ELMO. Execution of phagocytosis uses the actin-remodeler WSP-1/nWASp. This process dynamically tracks AFD activity and is regulated by temperature, the AFD sensory input. Importantly, glial CED-10 levels regulate engulfment rates downstream of neuron activity, and engulfment-defective mutants exhibit altered AFD-ending shape and thermosensory behavior. Our findings reveal a molecular pathway underlying glia-dependent engulfment in a peripheral sense-organ, and demonstrate that glia actively engulf neuron-fragments, with profound consequences on neuron shape and animal sensory behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere63532
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Glia
  • Phagocytosis
  • Pruning
  • Sensory systems
  • Small GTPase CED-10/Rac1
  • Thermotaxis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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