To understand the function of an organ, it is often useful to understand the role of its constituent cell populations. Unfortunately, the rarity of individual cell populations often makes it difficult to obtain enough material for molecular studies. For example, the accessory gland of the Drosophila male reproductive system contains two distinct secretory cell types. The main cells make up 96% of the secretory cells of the gland, while the secondary cells (SC) make up the remaining 4% of cells (about 80 cells per male). Although both cell types produce important components of the seminal fluid, only a few genes are known to be specific to the SCs. The rarity of SCs has, thus far, hindered transcriptomic analysis study of this important cell type. Here, a method is presented that allows for the purification of SCs for RNA extraction and sequencing. The protocol consists in first dissecting glands from flies expressing a SC-specific GFP reporter and then subjecting these glands to protease digestion and mechanical dissociation to obtain individual cells. Following these steps, individual, living, GFP-marked cells are sorted using a fluorescent activated cell sorter (FACS) for RNA purification. This procedure yields SC-specific RNAs from ~40 males per condition for downstream RT-qPCR and/or RNA sequencing in the course of one day. The rapidity and simplicity of the procedure allows for the transcriptomes of many different flies, from different genotypes or environmental conditions, to be determined in a short period of time.
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