Cell death is a fundamental process in animal development and homeostasis, and mis-regulation of cell death is associated with a large number of human diseases including cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. While much is known about mechanisms of apoptotic cell death, far less is known about non-apoptotic forms of cell death which contribute significantly to development and disease. Our research focuses on uncovering the mechanisms that control a non-apoptotic form of cell death that occurs naturally in the Drosophila ovary, a model system with powerful tools in genetics and cell biology. During late stages of oogenesis, germline- derived nurse cells undergo synchronous programmed cell death. In the prior grant periods, we determined that developmental nurse cell death can occur independently of apoptosis and autophagy genes, and nurse cell death displays hallmarks of necrosis. We recently discovered a transcription factor that inhibits nurse cell death more strongly that combined inhibition of apoptosis and autophagy. Furthermore, we have found that follicle cells, which surround the nurse cells, act non-cell-autonomously to promote nurse cell removal. We propose that nurse cell death involves collaboration between novel pathways acting autonomously in the germline and non-autonomously in the surrounding somatic follicle cells. This proposal aims to uncover the network acting in the nurse cells and follicle cells that culminates in nurse cell death. First, we will investigate the events occurring in follicle cells, nd how these coordinate with nurse cell death. Second, we will characterize the targets of transcription factors found to direct the cell- autonomous cell death pathway in nurse cells. Third, we will determine how the upstream activators of nurse cell death control specific nuclear events and interface with downstream effectors. Given the high degree of conservation of cell death mechanisms between Drosophila and mammals identified thus far, we expect that pathways that we uncover in the fly ovary will provide insight into the diversity of cell death mechanisms in humans. A complete understanding of the mechanisms controlling cell death may reveal new therapeutic targets for diseases with excessive or insufficient cell death such as neurodegenerative disorders and cancer.

Public Health Relevance

Programmed cell death plays a central role in development and in many diseases. Our research aims to understand the mechanisms of programmed cell death in the Drosophila ovary, a model system with unique advantages in genetics and cell biology. A complete understanding of the diverse mechanisms controlling cell death may reveal new therapeutic targets for diseases with excessive or insufficient cell death such as neurodegenerative disorders and cancer.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Cellular Signaling and Regulatory Systems Study Section (CSRS)
Program Officer
Maas, Stefan
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Boston University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Timmons, Allison K; Mondragon, Albert A; Meehan, Tracy L et al. (2017) Control of non-apoptotic nurse cell death by engulfment genes in Drosophila. Fly (Austin) 11:104-111
Klionsky, Daniel J (see original citation for additional authors) (2016) Guidelines for the use and interpretation of assays for monitoring autophagy (3rd edition). Autophagy 12:1-222
Timmons, Allison K; Mondragon, Albert A; Schenkel, Claire E et al. (2016) Phagocytosis genes nonautonomously promote developmental cell death in the Drosophila ovary. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113:E1246-55
Meehan, Tracy L; Yalonetskaya, Alla; Joudi, Tony F et al. (2015) Detection of Cell Death and Phagocytosis in the Drosophila Ovary. Methods Mol Biol 1328:191-206
Perkins, Lizabeth A; Holderbaum, Laura; Tao, Rong et al. (2015) The Transgenic RNAi Project at Harvard Medical School: Resources and Validation. Genetics 201:843-52
Peterson, Jeanne S; Timmons, Allison K; Mondragon, Albert A et al. (2015) The End of the Beginning: Cell Death in the Germline. Curr Top Dev Biol 114:93-119
Peterson, Jeanne S; McCall, Kimberly (2013) Combined inhibition of autophagy and caspases fails to prevent developmental nurse cell death in the Drosophila melanogaster ovary. PLoS One 8:e76046
Timmons, Allison K; Meehan, Tracy L; Gartmond, Tori D et al. (2013) Use of necrotic markers in the Drosophila ovary. Methods Mol Biol 1004:215-28
Jenkins, Victoria K; Timmons, Allison K; McCall, Kimberly (2013) Diversity of cell death pathways: insight from the fly ovary. Trends Cell Biol 23:567-74
Pritchett, T L; McCall, K (2012) Role of the insulin/Tor signaling network in starvation-induced programmed cell death in Drosophila oogenesis. Cell Death Differ 19:1069-79

Showing the most recent 10 out of 28 publications