To study the role of ninjurin in development and immunity, Page-McCaw uses a strategy to exclude the protein from the animal. By developing a mutant fly lacking the gene that codes for the protein, she can examine what goes wrong without the protein and then infer the normal function of that protein.
She has previously done similar work knocking out MMP in flies. "One of the defects in MMP mutants is in their ability to control cell adhesion," she said. Many tissues undergo remodeling as the flies grow and develop, but at least one, the breathing tubes, do not develop properly in the mutant flies. Page-McCaw calls it a "cellular adhesion defect that causes problems for the animal at the tissue level."
Now she plans to find how ninjurin affects breathing tube development, as well as the role it plays in immunity. "The immune system is all about immune cells circulating around and being able to attach to tissues that need their attention," she said.
A new signaling pathway holds promise of new therapeutic targets. "We're talking about an entirely new signaling pathway that hasn't been identified previously," Page-McCaw said. But it's too soon to know how her findings will be used in terms of human health.
"There are lots of examples of times where the ability of cells to communicate goes awry in disease and ninjurin could be playing a role in any of those," she said. "The goals of my research are contributions of new ideas and mechanisms that can then be realized by the broader biomedical community."
Source:Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute