The genetics of cell migration in Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans development

Denise J. Montell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Cell migrations are found throughout the animal kingdom and are among the most dramatic and complex of cellular behaviors. Historically, the mechanics of cell migration have been studied primarily in vitro, where cells can be readily viewed and manipulated. However, genetic approaches in relatively simple model organisms are yielding additional insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying cell movements and their regulation during development. This review will focus on these simple model systems where we understand some of the signaling and receptor molecules that stimulate and guide cell movements. The chemotactic guidance factor encoded by the Caenorhabditis elegans unc-6 locus, whose mammalian homolog is Netrin, is perhaps the best known of the cell migration guidance factors. In addition, receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), and FGF receptors in particular, have emerged as key mediators of cell migration in vivo, confirming the importance of molecules that were initially identified and studied in cell culture. Somewhat surprisingly, screens for mutations that affect primordial germ cell migration in Drosophila have revealed that enzymes involved in lipid metabolism play a role in guiding cell migration in vivo, possibly by producing and/or degrading lipid chemoattractants or chemorepellents. Cell adhesion molecules, such as integrins, have been extensively characterized with respect to their contribution to cell migration in vitro and genetic evidence now supports a role for these receptors in certain instances in vivo as well. The role for non-muscle myosin in cell motility was controversial, but has now been demonstrated genetically, at least in some cell types. Currently the best characterized link between membrane receptor signaling and regulation of the actin cytoskeleton is that provided by the Rho family of small GTPases. Members of this family are clearly essential for the migrations of some cells; however, key questions remain concerning how chemoattractant and chemorepellent signals are integrated within the cell and transduced to the cytoskeleton to produce directed cell migration. New types of genetic screens promise to fill in some of these gaps in the near future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3035-3046
Number of pages12
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 1 1999


  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Cell migration
  • Drosophila

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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