Fly with brain tumor may shed light on cancer causing genes


A study showing how the expression of genes changes when the brain tissue of fruit flies becomes cancerous is published this week in BMC Genomics. As the function of many of these genes is conserved across evolution, the researchers expect their results will help us to understand why human brain tumors develop.

The causes of brain tumor development are largely unknown. To investigate this question, researchers from University of Basel, Switzerland and University of Freiburg, Germany, used microarray technology to compare the levels of gene expression in the heads of healthy flies and those with brain cancer.

They found significant changes in the expression levels of 321 different genes. These were involved in several different processes including metabolism, cell proliferation, gene transcription and protein translation.

"One fifth of these genes show homology to known mammalian genes involved in cancer formation," write the researchers.

The flies with cancer had mutations in the tumor-suppressor gene brain tumor (brat), which stopped the gene from functioning correctly. Inactivation of the brat gene causes the Drosophila larval brain to overgrow. The majority of larvae do not make it to adulthood - only 15% of them turn into flies. Surviving flies have large brains made up of cancerous tissue, and they normally die young.

If cells from this cancerous tissue are transplanted into a healthy fly, they grow rapidly and spread forming secondary tumors around the fly's body. The researchers plan to use the information that they have gathered from this experiment to elucidate which of the genes upregulated in these cancer cells are responsible for the cells' metastatic behaviour.


This press release is based on the following article:

Transcriptional signature of an adult brain tumor in Drosophila
Thomas Loop, Ronny Leemans, Urs Stiefel, Leandro Hermida, Boris Egger, Fukang Xie, Michael Primig, Ulrich Certa, Karl-Friedrick Fischbach, Heinrich Reichert, and Frank Hirth
BMC Genomics 2004, 5:24
To be published Friday 16 April, 2004

Upon publication this article will be available free of charge, according to BMC Genomic's Open Access policy at


For further information about this research please contact Frank Hirth by email at [email protected] or by phone on 41-61-267-1617.

Alternatively, or for more information about BMC Genomics or Open Access publishing, contact Gemma Bradley by email at [email protected] or by phone on 44-207-323-0323

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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