Identification of new cellular mechanisms involved in organ development

Cells in the epithelial sheet begin to invaginate in order to initiate the development of the tracheal tube of Drosophila
Cells in the epithelial sheet begin to invaginate in order to initiate the development of the tracheal tube of Drosophila

The regulation of cell behaviour is fundamental to our understanding of the development of organisms and the pathology of many diseases.

IRB Barcelona researchers, Véronique Brodu and Jordi Casanova, have obtained new data about the cellular process required for morphogenesis. By studying the fruit fly, Drosophila, the researchers have described, at the cellular level, how an structure passes from being a flat to a three-dimensional one. Specifically, they have identified the molecules responsible for the cellular changes required for the development of the tracheal tube of the fly, its respiratory organ, and localized them in the signalling pathways of other reactions required to induce the process. The study has been published in this week’s Genes & Development, one of the most important journals in the field of Developmental Biology.

Morphogenesis is one of three fundamental aspects of developmental biology, along with cell growth and cellular differentiation. As an organism develops, its cells, tissues and organs must change shape, grow and position themselves in exact locations within the organism, all in a coordinated manner. These changes are regulated by genes that specify cell fate and also by the capacity of the cells to respond to extracellular signals. However, much remains to be elucidated regarding the mechanisms by which these genes and extracellular signals produce changes in the shape and behaviour of cells.

"These are important results and the ultimate objective is to understand cell organization in organ development, in this case, the tracheal tube" says Jordi Casanova

This study reports how a few cells found on an epithelial sheet begin to invaginate (to move towards the inside of the organism) in order to initiate the development of the tracheal tube of the Drosophila, one of the models used for developmental studies. The authors have examined how these cells change shape and begin to move in a synchronized manner and have identified a series of molecules that regulate these processes.

During the study, which has been performed over 3 years, Brodu and Casanova, researcher and research professor of CSIC at IRB Barcelona respectively, have combined genetic and cell biology techniques. “These are important results”, explains Jordi Casanova, “and the ultimate objective is to understand cell organization in organ development, in this case the tracheal tube.”

One of the current challenges in the field of biomedicine is to further our knowledge of the cellular bases of development. These studies contribute to our understanding of morphogenesis and allow us to observe how this development occurs in normal processes and in diseases. The regulation of cell behaviour (proliferation, migration, differentiation and changes in shape) is fundamental to our biology and its abnormal function occurs in many pathologies. “The control of these processes is crucial”, adds the scientist.

International congress on Drosophila in Barcelona

International laboratories are increasingly working with Drosophila models to study the molecular bases of human diseases, such as morphological, neurological and metabolic disorders, cancer, cardiovascular pathologies, and diseases of the visual, auditive and immunological systems. In this context, and given that Barcelona hosts several prestigious laboratories, the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and ICREA have organized the congress “Drosophila as a model for human diseases”. For the first time, international experts in Drosophila will come together to present and discuss the latest breakthroughs in this field. The congress will be held from 5 to 7 October at the Barcelona Science Park.