Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Daniel N.Cox, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Deborah J. Baro, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Yi Jiang, Ph.D.


The specification and modulation of cell-type specific dendritic morphologies plays a pivotal role in nervous system development, connectivity, structural plasticity, and function. Regulation of gene expression is controlled by a wide variety of cellular and molecular mechanisms, of which two major types are transcription factors (TFs) and microRNAs (miRNAs). In Drosophila, dendritic complexity of dendritic arborization (da) sensory neurons of the peripheral nervous system are known to be regulated by two transcription factors Cut and Knot, although much remains unknown about the molecular mechanisms and regulatory networks via which they regulate the final arbor shape through spatio-temporal modulation of dendritic development and dynamics. Here we use bioinformatics analysis of transcriptomic data to identify putative genomic targets of these TFs with a particular emphasis on those that effect neuronal cytoskeletal architecture. We use transcriptomic, as well as data from various genomic and protein interaction databases, to build a weighted functional gene regulatory network for Knot, to identify the biological pathways and downstream genes that this TF regulates. To corroborate bioinformatics network predictions, knot putative targets, which classify into neuronal and cytoskeletal functional groups, have been experimentally validated by in vivo genetic perturbations to elucidate their role in Knot-mediated Class IV (CIV) dendritogenesis. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have emerged as key post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression, however identification of biologically-relevant target genes for this epigenetic regulatory mechanism remains a significant challenge. To address this knowledge gap, we have developed a novel R based tool, IntramiR-ExploreR, that facilitates integrated discovery of miRNA targets by incorporating target databases and novel target prediction algorithm to arrive at high confidence intragenic miRNA target predictions. We have explored the efficacy of this tool using D.melanogaster as a model organism for bioinformatics analyses and functional validation, and identified targets for 83 intragenic miRNAs. Predicted targets were validated, using in vivo genetic perturbation. Moreover, we are constructing interaction maps of intragenic miRNAs focusing on neural tissues to uncover regulatory codes via which these molecules regulate gene expression to direct cellular development.

Available for download on Sunday, July 21, 2019