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Modelling Cancer in Drosophila: The Next Generation

  1. Louise Y Cheng1,
  2. Linda M Parsons2,
  3. Helena E Richardson2

Published Online: 15 MAR 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020862.pub2



How to Cite

Cheng, L. Y., Parsons, L. M. and Richardson, H. E. 2013. Modelling Cancer in Drosophila: The Next Generation. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    Peter MacCallum Cancer Center, Stem Cell Growth Regulation Lab, Research Division, Melbourne, Australia

  2. 2

    Peter MacCallum Cancer Center, Cell Cycle and Development Lab, Research Division, East Melbourne, Australia

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 MAR 2013


Drosophila melanogaster, the vinegar fly, has been utilised as a genetic amenable model organism for more than 100 years. In recent years, its use in modelling human cancer has been greatly expanding. In this article, an update of the recent advances in Drosophila research towards understanding cancer development is provided. Genetic analysis in Drosophila has provided considerable insight into the mechanisms controlling tissue growth and cell invasion/metastasis during tumourigenesis, as well as the importance of stem cells in tissue regeneration and cancer, and how genes cooperate in tumourigenesis. Several evolutionarily conserved signalling pathways are emerging as playing key roles in many of these processes, including the Jun kinase, Notch, Wnt, Jak/Stat and the Hippo tissue growth control pathway. Drosophila has also been specifically utilised to model certain human cancers, by expression of the human versions of cancer-causing genes, including multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2, glioblastoma and acute myeloid leukaemia. Finally, the use of Drosophila as a vehicle for anticancer drug discovery is beginning to make an important impact in combating human cancer.

Key Concepts:

  • Drosophila is a useful system for modelling human cancer due to the high conservation of critical cancer-causing genes between humans and flies.

  • Many signalling pathways contribute to tissue growth; however, the Hippo growth control pathway is emerging as playing a major role.

  • The Jun kinase signalling pathway plays a context-dependent role in invasion/metastasis.

  • Cell polarity and differentiation factors play important roles in controlling the behaviour of stem cells, which can be usurped in cancer.

  • Cell competition mechanisms are important in removing damaged cells, and the perturbation of this control contributes to tumourigenesis.

  • Cancer is a cooperative process and Drosophila research has revealed many cooperating oncogenes and tumour suppressors.

  • Drosophila provides a useful model system to investigate specific human cancers including multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2, glioblastoma and acute myeloid leukaemia.

  • Drosophila can be utilised to screen for anticancer drugs.


  • Drosophila;
  • cancer;
  • cell polarity;
  • proliferation;
  • survival;
  • differentiation;
  • invasion/metastasis;
  • cell competition;
  • tumour microenvironment;
  • chemical screening