Although fruit flies donâ€™t develop cancer, cancer and stem cell researchers have been learning a great deal from fruit flies â€“ in particular, mutant flies with overgrown organs that resemble hippopotamuses.
A fly gene called Hippo and its relatives in mammals normally block cell proliferation and limit organ size. When flies have mutations in Hippo or other genes (together dubbed the Hippo pathway), the resulting overgrowth distorts their tissues into hippopotamus-like bulges. See Figure 3 of this review for an example. In humans, the Hippo pathway is involved in forming embryonic stem cells, suppressing cancerous growth, and also in regenerative growth and wound healing..
Working with flies, researchers at Emory have found that the abnormal growth induced by Hippo pathway disruption depends on genes involved in responding to the steroid hormone ecdysone.
Their results were published Thursday, July 2 in Developmental Cell.
â€œEcdysone is, to some degree, the fly version of estrogen,â€ says senior author Ken Moberg, PhD, associate professor of cell biology at Emory University School of Medicine.
In fly larvae, ecdysone triggers metamorphosis, in which adult structures such as wings and eyes emerge from small compartments called imaginal discs.. Ecdysone has a chemical structure like that of estrogen, testosterone and other steroid hormones found in humans. Ecdysone is not sex-specific, but it acts with the same mechanism as other steroid hormones, diffusing into cells and binding proteins that bind DNA and regulate gene activity. Read more