Carlos I. Ayala



     Year Entered: 2008

     Degrees Received:
     University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras
     Biology major
     B.S., 2008

     Thesis Advisor: Thomas Neufeld, Ph.D.

     Thesis Research: Autophagy is a  housekeeping cellular pathway
     used by cells to maintain homeostasis, handle starvation
     or stress and prevent protein aggregation. The process occurs by
     sequestration of cytoplasmic material into autophagosomes to
     ultimately fuse with lysosomes to degrade cargo, replenish nutrients and maintain cellular health. Vesicular traffic has been shown to be a major player in this process from the beginning to the end stages. Among the latter, a small number of Rab GTPases have been identified as important regulators of autophagy. Nonetheless, our understanding of the role of traffic is still incompletely understood in regards to autophagy. Most of the focus in this area of research has relied exhaustively on mammal and yeast models, therefore we decided to perform a screen of the ~30 Rab GTPases in the genetic workhorse Drosophila melanogaster to elucidate their role in autophagy. The screen consisted of knockdown (dsRNA) and over-expression of constitutively active, dominant negative and wild-type versions of each Rab proteins. Our results indicate the value of Drosophila as powerful biological model in the study of autophagy and revealed novel Rab GTPases involved in the regulation of this process. Of special interest is a selected group of Rab proteins involved in Golgi Traffic.

My thesis will attempt to: 1) Characterize the role of the Golgi Rab proteins in the regulation of autophagy, 2) Establish and characterize the role of Atg9 (localizes to the golgi in mammals) in flies and in relationship to the Rab candidates and 3) Establish if any of the Rab candidates or Atg9 has any impact on fly models of neurodegeneration.