Disease-related studies in the fly model

If the goal is human disease-related studies, why do functional genomics in Drosophila?

Flies provide

  • a simple, low-redundancy, well-annotated genome
  • all major signaling pathways conserved (Hh, Toll, Hippo, etc.)
  • best understood model of insect vectors of diseases (e.g. mosquitoes) and insect pests
  • proven model of human diseases including cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, congenital disorders, kidney stones, neuronal injury, behavioral disorders, and more

Many researchers use our technologies to to uncover new findings relevant to disease and potential drug targets. We welcome inquiries from non-Drosophila researchers looking to connect with specific expertise and resources. We also recommend our fly models of human diseases blog.

Our HuDis-TRiP fly stocks page lists RNAi fly stocks targeting fly orthologs of human disease-associated genes. Learn more about the HuDis-TRiP project at this page.

See links below to relevant online tools, reagents, publications, and more.

results table from a DIOPT-DIST online tool search with the disease term Parkinsons

Online tools


Contact Us

Please contact us for any questions.


Yanhui Hu, Aram Comjean, Stephanie E Mohr, The FlyBase Consortium, and Norbert Perrimon. 2017. “Gene2Function: An Integrated Online Resource for Gene Function Discovery.” G3 (Bethesda).Abstract
One of the most powerful ways to develop hypotheses regarding biological functions of conserved genes in a given species, such as in humans, is to first look at what is known about function in another species. Model organism databases (MODs) and other resources are rich with functional information but difficult to mine. Gene2Function (G2F) addresses a broad need by integrating information about conserved genes in a single online resource.
Iiro Taneli Helenius, Ryan J Haake, Yong-Jae Kwon, Jennifer A Hu, Thomas Krupinski, Marina S Casalino-Matsuda, Peter HS Sporn, Jacob I Sznajder, and Greg J Beitel. 2016. “Identification of Drosophila Zfh2 as a Mediator of Hypercapnic Immune Regulation by a Genome-Wide RNA Interference Screen..” J Immunol, 196, 2, Pp. 655-67.Abstract

Hypercapnia, elevated partial pressure of CO2 in blood and tissue, develops in many patients with chronic severe obstructive pulmonary disease and other advanced lung disorders. Patients with advanced disease frequently develop bacterial lung infections, and hypercapnia is a risk factor for mortality in such individuals. We previously demonstrated that hypercapnia suppresses induction of NF-κB-regulated innate immune response genes required for host defense in human, mouse, and Drosophila cells, and it increases mortality from bacterial infections in both mice and Drosophila. However, the molecular mediators of hypercapnic immune suppression are undefined. In this study, we report a genome-wide RNA interference screen in Drosophila S2* cells stimulated with bacterial peptidoglycan. The screen identified 16 genes with human orthologs whose knockdown reduced hypercapnic suppression of the gene encoding the antimicrobial peptide Diptericin (Dipt), but did not increase Dipt mRNA levels in air. In vivo tests of one of the strongest screen hits, zinc finger homeodomain 2 (Zfh2; mammalian orthologs ZFHX3/ATBF1 and ZFHX4), demonstrate that reducing zfh2 function using a mutation or RNA interference improves survival of flies exposed to elevated CO2 and infected with Staphylococcus aureus. Tissue-specific knockdown of zfh2 in the fat body, the major immune and metabolic organ of the fly, mitigates hypercapnia-induced reductions in Dipt and other antimicrobial peptides and improves resistance of CO2-exposed flies to infection. Zfh2 mutations also partially rescue hypercapnia-induced delays in egg hatching, suggesting that Zfh2's role in mediating responses to hypercapnia extends beyond the immune system. Taken together, to our knowledge, these results identify Zfh2 as the first in vivo mediator of hypercapnic immune suppression.

Arunachalam Vinayagam, Meghana M Kulkarni, Richelle Sopko, Xiaoyun Sun, Yanhui Hu, Ankita Nand, Christians Villalta, Ahmadali Moghimi, Xuemei Yang, Stephanie E Mohr, Pengyu Hong, John M Asara, and Norbert Perrimon. 9/13/2016. “An Integrative Analysis of the InR/PI3K/Akt Network Identifies the Dynamic Response to Insulin Signaling.” Cell Reports, 16, 11, Pp. 3062-3074.Abstract

Insulin regulates an essential conserved signaling pathway affecting growth, proliferation, and meta- bolism. To expand our understanding of the insulin pathway, we combine biochemical, genetic, and computational approaches to build a comprehensive Drosophila InR/PI3K/Akt network. First, we map the dynamic protein-protein interaction network sur- rounding the insulin core pathway using bait-prey interactions connecting 566 proteins. Combining RNAi screening and phospho-specific antibodies, we find that 47% of interacting proteins affect pathway activity, and, using quantitative phospho- proteomics, we demonstrate that $10% of interact- ing proteins are regulated by insulin stimulation at the level of phosphorylation. Next, we integrate these orthogonal datasets to characterize the structure and dynamics of the insulin network at the level of protein complexes and validate our method by iden- tifying regulatory roles for the Protein Phosphatase 2A (PP2A) and Reptin-Pontin chromatin-remodeling complexes as negative and positive regulators of ribosome biogenesis, respectively. Altogether, our study represents a comprehensive resource for the study of the evolutionary conserved insulin network. 

Alfeu Zanotto-Filho, Ravi Dashnamoorthy, Eva Loranc, Luis HT de Souza, José CF Moreira, Uthra Suresh, Yidong Chen, and Alexander JR Bishop. 2016. “Combined Gene Expression and RNAi Screening to Identify Alkylation Damage Survival Pathways from Fly to Human..” PLoS One, 11, 4, Pp. e0153970.Abstract

Alkylating agents are a key component of cancer chemotherapy. Several cellular mechanisms are known to be important for its survival, particularly DNA repair and xenobiotic detoxification, yet genomic screens indicate that additional cellular components may be involved. Elucidating these components has value in either identifying key processes that can be modulated to improve chemotherapeutic efficacy or may be altered in some cancers to confer chemoresistance. We therefore set out to reevaluate our prior Drosophila RNAi screening data by comparison to gene expression arrays in order to determine if we could identify any novel processes in alkylation damage survival. We noted a consistent conservation of alkylation survival pathways across platforms and species when the analysis was conducted on a pathway/process level rather than at an individual gene level. Better results were obtained when combining gene lists from two datasets (RNAi screen plus microarray) prior to analysis. In addition to previously identified DNA damage responses (p53 signaling and Nucleotide Excision Repair), DNA-mRNA-protein metabolism (transcription/translation) and proteasome machinery, we also noted a highly conserved cross-species requirement for NRF2, glutathione (GSH)-mediated drug detoxification and Endoplasmic Reticulum stress (ER stress)/Unfolded Protein Responses (UPR) in cells exposed to alkylation. The requirement for GSH, NRF2 and UPR in alkylation survival was validated by metabolomics, protein studies and functional cell assays. From this we conclude that RNAi/gene expression fusion is a valid strategy to rapidly identify key processes that may be extendable to other contexts beyond damage survival.

Benjamin E Housden, Alexander J Valvezan, Colleen Kelley, Richelle Sopko, Yanhui Hu, Charles Roesel, Shuailiang Lin, Michael Buckner, Rong Tao, Bahar Yilmazel, Stephanie E Mohr, Brendan D Manning, and Norbert Perrimon. 2015. “Identification of potential drug targets for tuberous sclerosis complex by synthetic screens combining CRISPR-based knockouts with RNAi..” Sci Signal, 8, 393, Pp. rs9.Abstract

The tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) family of tumor suppressors, TSC1 and TSC2, function together in an evolutionarily conserved protein complex that is a point of convergence for major cell signaling pathways that regulate mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1). Mutation or aberrant inhibition of the TSC complex is common in various human tumor syndromes and cancers. The discovery of novel therapeutic strategies to selectively target cells with functional loss of this complex is therefore of clinical relevance to patients with nonmalignant TSC and those with sporadic cancers. We developed a CRISPR-based method to generate homogeneous mutant Drosophila cell lines. By combining TSC1 or TSC2 mutant cell lines with RNAi screens against all kinases and phosphatases, we identified synthetic interactions with TSC1 and TSC2. Individual knockdown of three candidate genes (mRNA-cap, Pitslre, and CycT; orthologs of RNGTT, CDK11, and CCNT1 in humans) reduced the population growth rate of Drosophila cells lacking either TSC1 or TSC2 but not that of wild-type cells. Moreover, individual knockdown of these three genes had similar growth-inhibiting effects in mammalian TSC2-deficient cell lines, including human tumor-derived cells, illustrating the power of this cross-species screening strategy to identify potential drug targets.