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Experiments reveal ancient blood flow map

genes encoding a single VEGF receptor and three related VEGF proteins in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster by searching the recently completed Drosophila genome sequence for fly genes similar to their human counterparts. In mammals, VEGF has been shown to be critical for normal development and proper functioning of blood vessels. In lieu of blood vessels, fruit flies have an open circulatory system in which blood cells are moved throughout the body by the pumping of a primitive heart called the dorsal vessel. In flies, blood cells are involved in recognizing and destroying pathogens, digesting remnants of dead cells, and wound healing, among other roles.

To determine what function VEGF and its receptors played in the insects, they localized the VEGF and VEGF receptor RNA and followed where in the developing fruit fly embryo the genes were active. They found that the VEGF receptor is made almost exclusively in the developing flies blood cells, whereas the VEGF protein lines many of the pathways that blood cells travel from their initial point of origin.

When the researchers inactivated the gene encoding the VEGF receptor and followed blood cell migration, they noticed that blood cells formed and began to migrate normally throughout the body, but never reached the posterior or tail section. Instead, blood cells clumped together at the entry point into the tail region. The researchers concluded that without a functioning VEGF receptor, the blood cells could not find their way to their destination.

How long-range migration of blood cells is accomplished has been an open question for a long time, said Krasnow. These results support a scenario in which signaling centers are placed at many positions along the migration pathway. Its a bit like attracting a duck by leaving a trail of breadcrumbs along the pathway.

When the researchers added VEGF to areas in the fly that normally dont make the protein, the result was a dramat
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Contact: Jim Keeley
keeleyj@hhmi.org
301-215-8858
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
28-Mar-2002


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