Neural stem cells (NSCs) are embedded in a multi-layered, intricate cellular microenvironment supporting their activity, the niche. Whilst shape and function are inseparable, the morphogenetic aspects of niche development are poorly understood. Here, we use the formation of the glial network of a NSC niche to investigate acquisition of architectural complexity. Cortex glia (CG) in Drosophila regulate neurogenesis and build a reticular structure around NSCs. We first show that individual CG cells grow tremendously to ensheath several NSC lineages, eventually spanning the entire tissue while partitioning the NSC population. Elaborate proliferative mechanisms convert these cells into syncytia rich in cytoplasmic bridges. Unexpectedly, CG syncytia further undergo homotypic cell-cell fusion, relying on defined molecular players of cell fusion such as cell surface receptors and actin regulators. Exchange of cellular components is however dynamic in space and time, a previously unreported unique mechanism. This atypical cell fusion remodels cellular borders, restructuring the CG syncytia. Ultimately, the coordination of growth and fusion builds the multi-level architecture of the niche, and creates a modular, spatial partition of the NSC population. Our findings provide novel insights into how a niche forms and organises while developing intimate contacts with a stem cell population.
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