Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

John Manak


About 5% to 10% of epileptic patients suffer from Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy (JME), which is characterized by spasms of the arms, ataxia (uncoordinated movements), and general tonic-clonic seizures. In a recent study, a group of patients with myoclonic epilepsy was found to harbor mutations in the PRICKLE1 and PRICKLE2 genes. This suggested that PRICKLE genes might be linked to epilepsy, and given that PRICKLE is highly evolutionarily conserved (including in fruit flies), we decided to use Drosophila in order to determine, first, whether flies with prickle mutations were seizure-prone, and if so, to then use the powerful genetic tools of Drosophila to elucidate the underlying mechanism of the prickle-associated epilepsy. In this work, we show that mutation of the pksple isoform (one of the two adult prickle isoforms in flies) lowers the seizure threshold in the mutant flies (resulting in seizure activity), while mutation of the other adult isoform, pkpk, had no effect. This was demonstrated through both behavioral assays (where the pksple mutant flies showed a reduction in recovery of climbing behavior after being subjected to mechanical stimulation while the pkpk mutant flies did not) as well as electrophysiological analysis (where pksple mutants were shown to be hyperexcitable after electrical stimulation, while the pkpk allele showed no change in spiking activity). We demonstrated that the underlying mechanism of the hyperexcitability seen in the pksple flies was due to enhanced anterograde transport on microtubule (MT) tracks in neurons, the main route for transport in neurons, which could be suppressed by reducing the dose of either of two Kinesin motor proteins, the motors involved in anterograde transport in neurons. On the other hand, the pkpk mutants showed the reverse effect, exhibiting a significant reduction in vesicle transport dynamics. We showed that microtubule polarity could be partially reversed by tipping the balance of the pk isoforms similar to what is seen in the pkpk mutants (such that a large percentage of MTs now had their plus ends oriented towards the cell body, which is extremely rare in axons), suggesting that the vesicle transport defects seen in the pkpk mutants might be due to mixed polarity of MTs.

Next, we showed that the seizure-prone pksple mutants, but not the pkpk mutants, exhibited a myoclonic form of epilepsy, as well as abnormal walking patterns and uncoordinated movements, paralleling the ataxia phenotype seen in the epileptic patients with PRICKLE mutations. These data suggest that the primary aspects of the epilepsy-ataxia syndrome seen in patients with PRICKLE mutations are recapitulated in flies, which underscores the utility of using the fruit fly genetic system to model this disorder. Finally, our preliminary results suggest that the pk alleles have different effects on neuronal morphology due to changes in sizes of terminal boutons at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) in larvae. These data suggest that pk is having a direct effect on synaptic formation and likely function.

In conclusion, by using our Drosophila model system, we were able to link prickle mutations to epilepsy as well as identify the cellular mechanism of the prickle-associated epilepsy, a novel epilepsy mechanism previously associated with neurodegeneration. To our knowledge, this is the first example of a gene that, when mutated, will cause seizures in flies, zebrafish, mice, and humans, indicating that the role of prickle in controlling seizure activity is remarkably conserved in animals. Significantly, since about one third of patients with epilepsy do not respond to current AEDs, our fly model and the techniques we have developed will enable us to conduct drug screens for testing potential chemical compounds as new AEDs.


Ataxia, epilepsy, Kinesin, prickle, seizure, vesicle transport


xvii, 105 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 93-105).


Copyright © 2015 Salleh Nasser Ehaideb

Additional Files

Movie 2-1.wmv (8841 kB)
Movie 2-2.wmv (8594 kB)
Movie 2-3.wmv (2996 kB)
Movie 3-1.wmv (3426 kB)
Movie 3-2.wmv (71 kB)
Movie 3-3.wmv (118 kB)
Movie 3-4.wmv (119 kB)
Movie 3-5.wmv (2713 kB)

Included in

Biology Commons