The EMBO journal

Zfh1 promotes survival of a peripheral glia subtype by antagonizing a Jun N-terminal kinase-dependent apoptotic pathway.

PMID 19745814


In Drosophila subperineurial glia (SPG) ensheath and insulate the nerve. SPG is under strict cell cycle and survival control because cell division or death of such a cell type would compromise the integrity of the blood-nerve barrier. The mechanisms underlying the survival of SPG remain unknown. Here, we show that the embryonic peripheral glia expresses the Zfh1 transcription factor, and in zfh1 mutants a particular SPG subtype, ePG10, undergoes apoptosis. Our findings show that in ePG10, Zfh1 represses the pro-apoptotic RHG-motif gene reaper in a cell-autonomous manner. Zfh1 also blocks the activation of the Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) pathway, and reducing or enhancing JNK signalling in zfh1 mutants prevents or promotes ePG10 apoptosis. Our study shows a novel function for Zfh1 as an anti-apoptotic molecule and uncovers a cryptic JNK-dependent apoptotic programme in ePG10, which is normally blocked by Zfh1. We propose that, in cells such as SPG that do not undergo self-renewal and survive long periods, transcriptional control of RHG-motif gene expression together with fine tuning of JNK signalling is crucial for cell survival.