Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Whole transcriptome analysis of a reversible neurodegenerative process in Drosophila reveals potential neuroprotective genes

María José Ferreiro1, Naiara Rodríguez-Ezpeleta23, Coralia Pérez4, Michael Hackenberg5, Ana María Aransay2, Rosa Barrio4* and Rafael Cantera16*

Author Affiliations

1 Developmental Neurobiology, IIBCE, Montevideo, Uruguay

2 Genome Analysis Platform, CIC bioGUNE & CIBERehd, Derio, Spain

3 Current affiliation: AZTI Tecnalia, Marine Research Division, Sukarrieta, Spain

4 Functional Genomics, CIC bioGUNE, Derio, Spain

5 Genetics Department, Granada University, Granada, Spain

6 Zoology Department, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:483  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-483

Published: 15 September 2012



Neurodegenerative diseases are progressive and irreversible and they can be initiated by mutations in specific genes. Spalt-like genes (Sall) encode transcription factors expressed in the central nervous system. In humans, SALL mutations are associated with hereditary syndromes characterized by mental retardation, sensorineural deafness and motoneuron problems, among others. Drosophila sall mutants exhibit severe neurodegeneration of the central nervous system at embryonic stage 16, which surprisingly reverts later in development at embryonic stage 17, suggesting a potential to recover from neurodegeneration. We hypothesize that this recovery is mediated by a reorganization of the transcriptome counteracting SALL lost. To identify genes associated to neurodegeneration and neuroprotection, we used mRNA-Seq to compare the transcriptome of Drosophila sall mutant and wild type embryos from neurodegeneration and reversal stages.


Neurodegeneration stage is associated with transcriptional changes in 220 genes, of which only 5% were already described as relevant for neurodegeneration. Genes related to the groups of Redox, Lifespan/Aging and Mitochondrial diseases are significantly represented at this stage. By contrast, neurodegeneration reversal stage is associated with significant changes in 480 genes, including 424 not previously associated with neuroprotection. Immune response and Salt stress are the most represented groups at this stage.


We identify new genes associated to neurodegeneration and neuroprotection by using an mRNA-Seq approach. The strong homology between Drosophila and human genes raises the possibility to unveil novel genes involved in neurodegeneration and neuroprotection also in humans.

mRNA-Seq; Spalt; SALL; Neurodegeneration; Neuroprotection; Drosophila