Cell migration (Fall 2013 - Spring 2015)

During this research opportunity, I had the chance to work in Dr. Michelle Starz-Gaiano's lab. Dr. Starz-Gaiano's lab is located in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). This research was funded by the National Science Foundation as a CAREER Award to Dr. Starz-Gaiano. 

Motivation

  • Cell migration is essential in the normal development and cellular activities that include wound healing and our immune response. 
  • Cell migration occurs in metastatic cancer, whereby cancer cells spread to other parts of the body.
  • However, the mechanisms that decide which cells become migratory and how cells physically move are poorly understood. 
  • Elucidating the mechanisms of how cells coordinate their movements through their natural environments is critical for advancing knowledge on this topic and developing strategies for preventing and/or treating metastatic cancer (Montell, Yoon, & Starz-Gaiano, 2012).

Using forward genetics to identify additional regulators of the JAK/STAT pathway

Stage eight fruit fly ovariole where the border cell cluster displays a normal pattern of migration.

Stage eight fruit fly ovariole where the border cell cluster displays a normal pattern of migration.

Stage eight ovariole where the border cell cluster has not migrated from the anterior end.

Stage eight ovariole where the border cell cluster has not migrated from the anterior end.

To elucidate the mechanisms of cell migration, we used the Drosophila melanogaster (i.e. fruit fly) ovary as a model.  We observed the migration of a group of cells collectively known as the border cell cluster through the fruit fly ovariole (which is one of many tubes that form an insect's ovary). The fruit fly ovary was chosen as a model because of the transparent nature of its tissue. This allows us to visualization of the movement of a border cell cluster through an ovariole using fluorescent staining and light microscopy. Furthermore, this organism was also selected because of the availability of diverse tools for altering gene function. Ultimately, findings of this investigation can potentially be used for explaining similar phenomena in other multicellular organisms since many fruit fly genes are well conserved. 

Using the fruit fly ovary as a model we examined the Janus Kinase and Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription (JAK/STAT) signaling pathway and how it is regulated in border cell clusters. The JAK/STAT pathway is involved in recruiting cells for migration and maintaining cell motility (Silver, Geisbrecht, & Montell, 2005). One major interest of this investigation was to use forward genetics to identify additional regulators of this pathway. In doing so, we utilized an in vivo RNA interference screen (i.e. GAL4_UAS system)  to knock down the function of candidate genes. To visualize the effect of knocking down a particular gene on border cell migration, the ovarioles were stained (with a fluorescent stain) and visualized by light microscopy.

Presentation(s) & other activities

Characterization of Novel Signaling Regulators of Cell Migration in Drosophila melanogaster [Poster Presentation]. UMBC's Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day (URCAD), Spring 2014

Biology 499: Undergraduate Laboratory/Field Research. UMBC's Department of Biological Sciences, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, & Spring 2015

Biology 499L: Undergraduate Research Seminar. UMBC's Department of Biological Sciences, Spring 2015

Presenting at UMBC's Annual Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day, 2014.

Presenting at UMBC's Annual Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day, 2014.

References

Montell, D. J., Yoon, W. H., & Starz-Gaiano, M. (2012). Group choreography: mechanisms orchestrating the collective movement of border cells. Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology. http://doi.org/10.1038/nrm3433

Silver, D. L., Geisbrecht, E. R., & Montell, D. J. (2005). Requirement for JAK/STAT signaling throughout border cell migration in Drosophila. Development (Cambridge, England), 132(15), 3483–3492. http://doi.org/10.1242/dev.0191