Apoptosis is a genetically controlled form of cell death that occurs normally during development. The abnormal regulation of apoptosis is implicated in multiple diseases, including cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. The molecular process of apoptosis is evolutionarily conserved, as homologous genes have been found to control apoptosis in organisms ranging from nematodes to human.
The research in our lab is focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms of programmed cell death and its role in development. The model that we are using is the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster, an organism with unique advantages in genetics and cell biology. A major interest of the lab is germline cell death, which can occur at several distinct stages in the fly ovary. The death of nurse cells in late oogenesis is developmentally programmed and occurs rapidly and synchronously in clusters as each oocyte develops. Germline cell death can also occur earlier during mid-oogenesis in response to starvation or other insults. We have found that distinct components of the cell death machinery are required for the different types of cell death in the ovary. Starvation-induced germline cell death requires Dcp-1, a member of the caspase family of apoptotic proteases, and can be blocked by the caspase inhibitor, DIAP1. However, mutations in these genes only partially disrupt developmentally regulated nurse cell death, suggesting that a novel mechanism acts in late oogenesis. We are currently using genetic and molecular approaches to identify other components of the cell death pathways in the ovary.
Keywords: Drosophila developmental biology, apoptosis, oogenesis