Coordinating cell adhesion and the cytoskeleton are critical for shaping tissues and organs during development and homeostasis. We established a model to study this during Drosophila morphogenesis, using a highly multidisciplinary approach. Proteins on which we focus also play key roles in mammalian development and cancer metastasis. Understanding mechanisms coordinating adhesion and the cytoskeleton thus advances both basic science and clinical applications. Having identified proteins mediating adhesion and regulating actin, we face a new challenge: how do cells use these molecular machines to carry out the diverse cell behaviors shaping development. In the last four years we defined roles for Canoe/afadin as an adherens junction (AJ)-actin linker in four central developmental events and began to place it in a protein network regulating morphogenesis. We also defined roles in morphogenesis of two key actin regulators: Ena/VASP proteins and Dia-class formins. We found Ena and Dia physically interact and functionally cooperate in complex, non-additive ways, and explored how Abelson kinase integrates upstream signals and coordinates activity of multiple actin regulators. These data underlie our Aims, which explore new cell biological paradigms.
Aim 1 Determine how Rap1 and Canoe and their network of interactors work together and separately to regulate establishment and maintenance of apical-basal polarity and columnar cell shape. Our data reveal that Canoe and Rap1 are critical regulators of AJ:actin linkage during morphogenesis, and demonstrate they play unexpected roles in initiation and maintenance of cell polarity. Our working hypothesis is that they do so as part of a regulatory network including AJ proteins, the apical polarity protein Bazooka/Par3, the actomyosin cytoskeleton, and unidentified effectors. We will define how they work individually and together in two key events: apical-basal polarity establishment and maintenance and establishing columnar cell shape. Successful completion of this Aim will provide novel mechanistic insights into how diverse cell behaviors are controlled by overlapping networks of junctional, cytoskeletal and polarity proteins.
Aim 2 Define mechanisms by which actin dynamics are coordinately regulated during morphogenesis. Our data suggest Dia and Ena cooperatively regulate actin in non-additive ways, and Abl is a scaffold integrating multiple cytoskeletal regulators. Our working hypothesis is that direct Ena:Dia interaction modulates their action at barbed ends, producing diverse cell behaviors, and that the Abl acts as a scaffold via multiple partially redundant interactions, and uses both Ena and Abi as effectors. We will use a multidisciplinary approach to study Ena and Dia cooperation in vitro, in model cells, and in embryos, and will define how Abl and effectors coordinately regulate the cytoskeleton. Successful completion of this Aim will provide novel mechanistic insights into how actin regulators cooperate via physical interaction and how they are coordinately regulated by scaffolding proteins to produce actin structures with distinct dynamics and functions to drive morphogenesis.

Public Health Relevance

To form tissues and organs, cells must adhere to one another, and must act together, by coordinating their cytoskeletons. Disruptions of this process because certain birth defects, contribute to blistering skin diseases and some forms of congenital heart disease, and also play a role in cancer metastasis. We have developed a model system to explore how cell adhesion and the cytoskeleton are normally regulated, to allow better understanding of what goes wrong in human disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Intercellular Interactions (ICI)
Program Officer
Nie, Zhongzhen
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Chapel Hill
United States
Zip Code
Choi, Wangsun; Acharya, Bipul R; Peyret, Grégoire et al. (2016) Remodeling the zonula adherens in response to tension and the role of afadin in this response. J Cell Biol 213:243-60
Rogers, Edward M; Spracklen, Andrew J; Bilancia, Colleen G et al. (2016) Abelson kinase acts as a robust, multifunctional scaffold in regulating embryonic morphogenesis. Mol Biol Cell 27:2613-31
Pronobis, Mira I; Rusan, Nasser M; Peifer, Mark (2015) A novel GSK3-regulated APC:Axin interaction regulates Wnt signaling by driving a catalytic cycle of efficient ?catenin destruction. Elife 4:e08022
Winkelman, Jonathan D; Bilancia, Colleen G; Peifer, Mark et al. (2014) Ena/VASP Enabled is a highly processive actin polymerase tailored to self-assemble parallel-bundled F-actin networks with Fascin. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111:4121-6
Nowotarski, Stephanie H; McKeon, Natalie; Moser, Rachel J et al. (2014) The actin regulators Enabled and Diaphanous direct distinct protrusive behaviors in different tissues during Drosophila development. Mol Biol Cell 25:3147-65
Kannan, Ramakrishnan; Kuzina, Irina; Wincovitch, Stephen et al. (2014) The Abl/enabled signaling pathway regulates Golgi architecture in Drosophila photoreceptor neurons. Mol Biol Cell 25:2993-3005
Bilancia, Colleen G; Winkelman, Jonathan D; Tsygankov, Denis et al. (2014) Enabled negatively regulates diaphanous-driven actin dynamics in vitro and in vivo. Dev Cell 28:394-408
Tsygankov, Denis; Bilancia, Colleen G; Vitriol, Eric A et al. (2014) CellGeo: a computational platform for the analysis of shape changes in cells with complex geometries. J Cell Biol 204:443-60
Ellis, Stephanie J; Goult, Benjamin T; Fairchild, Michael J et al. (2013) Talin autoinhibition is required for morphogenesis. Curr Biol 23:1825-33
Manning, Alyssa J; Peters, Kimberly A; Peifer, Mark et al. (2013) Regulation of epithelial morphogenesis by the G protein-coupled receptor mist and its ligand fog. Sci Signal 6:ra98

Showing the most recent 10 out of 41 publications