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Tuning in on cellular communication in the fruit fly
Date:2/18/2009

WORCESTER, Mass. In their ongoing study of the processes involved in embryonic development in fruit flies, researchers at WPI's Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park have identified the function of a protein that sticks out of the embryonic cell membrane like an antenna and processes signals needed for the flies' wings to develop properly.

After fertilization, cells must send and receive signals that instruct them how and when to specialize and build all the tissues that comprise the adult organism. This requires a complex system of communication, both within each cell and among cells. The WPI team focused on one portion of that network known as the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) pathway, in the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) and reported their findings in the paper "Kekkon5 is an extracellular regulator of BMP signaling," published in the Feb. 1, 2009, edition of the journal Developmental Biology. (Dev Biol. 2009 Feb 1; 326(1):36-46.)

"The BMP pathway is very important for embryonic development, not only in fruit flies, but in vertebrates as well," said Joseph Duffy, PhD., associate professor of biology and biotechnology at WPI and lead author of the paper. "What we've identified is a new component of that pathway."

A cellular pathway is like a series of links in a chain that transmit signals to prompt specific actions within a cell. The BMP pathway directs the development of many tissue types in animals, including muscles, bones and the nervous system. In fruit flies, the pathway sends the signals that direct proper wing formation.

Many links along the BMP pathway within a cell are well-characterized, but how the pathway works from one cell to another as the embryo develops is less clear. In the current study, Duffy's team focused on a protein called Kekkon5 (Kek5), which extends through the cell membrane, much like an antenna extends from a mobile phone to send and receive signals. Duffy'
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Contact: Michael Cohen
mcohen@wpi.edu
508-868-4778
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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