Known Tumour Suppressor Gene Found Essential For Development, Regeneration & Stress-response (Medicine)

Experiments carried out in the Drosophila fly have led to the identification of the headcase (hdc) gene as pivotal for adult progenitor cells, allowing them to undergo metamorphosis and give rise to adult tissue structures.

The study by IRB Barcelona’s Development and Morphogenesis in Drosophila lab has been published in PLOS Genetics.

Adult progenitor cells are present in the Drosophila fly as early as its larvae stage. These cells are the only ones that are maintained throughout development and they are responsible for giving rise to adult tissues and organs. Headed by Jordi Casanova (also an IBMB-CSIC researcher), the Development and Morphogenesis in Drosophila lab at IRB Barcelona has identified the headcase (hdc) gene as responsible for the unique characteristics of these adult progenitor cells.

“In our study, mainly using the powerful genetic tools available in Drosophila, we were able to show that this gene regulates the development of the organism, including the stages of metamorphosis, by controlling the growth, proliferation, survival and resistance to stress of adult progenitor cells,” Casanova explains.

The headcase gene is homologous to the human HECA gene, and it plays a key role in cancer, acting as a tumour suppressor in both organisms, as it slows down cell cycle.

The link between stress and cancer

Besides identifying headcase as an essential gene for adult progenitor cells, the researchers led by Casanova have also characterised its mechanisms of action. In addition to its participation in hormone-stimulated growth control, this gene is also involved in the stress response and it maintains an equilibrium between these two processes.

“The finding that the headcase gene confers stress protection opens up a new avenue to be explored regarding the role of human HECA as it could also act as a stress protector and its absence may induce stress conditions that favour the initiation and progression of cancer,” says Panagiotis Giannios, postdoctoral researcher and first author of the paper.

This work was supported by the Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad of the Spanish Government and its Severo Ochoa Programme, and by the Generalitat de Catalunya and its CERCA Programme.

Featured image: Tracheal cells of Drosophila larvae, destined to form the adult tissue structures (Giannios, IRB Barcelona)


Reference article:
Panagiotis Giannios & Jordi Casanova
Systemic and local effect of the Drosophila headcase gene and its role in stress protection of Adult Progenitor Cells
PLOS Genetics (2021) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1009362


Provided by IRB Barcelona


About IRB Barcelona

Created in 2005 by the Generalitat de Catalunya (Government of Catalonia) and University of Barcelona, IRB Barcelona is a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence, a seal that was awarded in 2011. The institute is devoted to conducting research of excellence in biomedicine and to transferring results to clinical practice, thus improving people’s quality of life, while simultaneously promoting the training of outstanding researchers, technology transfer, and public communication of science. Its 28 laboratories and eight core facilities address basic questions in biology and are orientated to diseases such as cancer, metastasis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and rare conditions. IRB Barcelona is an international centre that hosts 400 employees and more than 30 nationalities. It is located in the Barcelona Science Park. IRB Barcelona is a CERCA center, and a member of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST).

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