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Transcriptome profiling of aging Drosophila photoreceptors reveals gene expression trends that correlate with visual senescence
Cooper, Daphne A.
Escobedo, Spencer E.
Brennan, Kaelan J.
Weake, Vikki M.
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Aging is associated with functional decline of neurons and increased incidence of both neurodegenerative and ocular disease. Photoreceptor neurons in Drosophila melanogaster provide a powerful model for studying the molecular changes involved in functional senescence of neurons since decreased visual behavior precedes retinal degeneration. Here, we sought to identify gene expression changes and the genomic features of differentially regulated genes in photoreceptors that contribute to visual senescence. Results: To identify gene expression changes that could lead to visual senescence, we characterized the aging transcriptome of Drosophila sensory neurons highly enriched for photoreceptors. We profiled the nuclear transcriptome of genetically-labeled photoreceptors over a 40 day time course and identified increased expression of genes involved in stress and DNA damage response, and decreased expression of genes required for neuronal function. We further show that combinations of promoter motifs robustly identify age-regulated genes, suggesting that transcription factors are important in driving expression changes in aging photoreceptors. However, long, highly expressed and heavily spliced genes are also more likely to be downregulated with age, indicating that other mechanisms could contribute to expression changes at these genes. Lastly, we identify that circular RNAs (circRNAs) strongly increase during aging in photoreceptors. Conclusions: Overall, we identified changes in gene expression in aging Drosophila photoreceptors that could account for visual senescence. Further, we show that genomic features predict these age-related changes, suggesting potential mechanisms that could be targeted to slow the rate of age-associated visual decline.