Tallahassee, Fla. -- In a landmark study, biologists at Florida State University have uncovered a specific genetic and molecular mechanism that causes cell polarity -- the asymmetric shape or composition critical to a cell's proper functioning. Their findings in fruit fly eggs may help to clarify how muscular dystrophy and some cancers develop in humans.
That's because many of the genes involved in the cell-to-cell communication that triggers the development of cell polarity in Drosophila oocytes (unfertilized fruit fly eggs) also are known players in the pathogenesis of those diseases.
The research performed by FSU Assistant Professor Wu-Min Deng and doctoral student John S. Poulton in the department of biological science could foster a better overall understanding of polarity and how it develops -- and why it doesn't, sometimes with dire consequences -- in other types of cells and organisms.
Results from the FSU study are described in the Aug. 14 online edition of the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
"We have identified a novel component in the polarization of the fruit fly egg and the signals that determine the anterior-posterior positioning of its head and abdomen," said Deng.
"Such a discovery in the biological model provided by Drosophila oocytes has broad implications in humans, where, for example, neurons in the brain are designed, or polarized, to interpret information from the sense organs, and intestinal cells are polarized to take up nutrients and move them into the bloodstream," he said.
Poulton explained that in order to ensure cell polarity in the Drosophila oocyte, the cells surrounding it activate a classic signaling pathway known as the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) in a process that is also essential to development in humans and a wide range of other organisms.