Connecting epithelial polarity, proliferation and cancer in Drosophila: the many faces of lgl loss of function
Open Access | Review | Published: 9 December 2013
Daniela Grifoni*, Francesca Froldi and Annalisa Pession
Dipartimento di Farmacia e Biotecnologie, University of Bologna, Italy
Loss of cell polarity is a prominent feature of epithelial cancers. Several tumour-suppressor genes are indeed involved in establishing and maintaining a correct apical-basal polarity suggesting that a link exists between disruption of epithelial polarity and the control of cell proliferation. Nevertheless, the molecular basis of this link is only beginning to be unveiled. In Drosophila, the tumour suppressor gene lethal giant larvae (lgl) is widely used as a genetic tool in cancer modelling: its loss of function causes neoplastic growth of the imaginal tissues, larval epithelial organs from which adult structures originate. These mutant epithelia are characterised by loss of cell polarity and tissue architecture as well as hyperproliferation. We observed that in a clonal context, the ability of lgl mutant cells to express their neoplastic potential correlates with the levels of the oncoprotein Myc, a master regulator of cell growth and proliferation. Malignant, polarity-deficient mutant cells upregulate Myc and are able to overcome the tumour-suppressive defences imposed by the surrounding wild-type tissue. How does the loss of lgl function induce an increase in Myc levels? The answer to this question came from the finding that Lgl is an upstream regulator of the Hippo pathway, a highly conserved signalling network that controls proliferation of epithelial cells and organ size. The core of this pathway responds to several upstream regulators and converges on the inhibition of a transcriptional co-factor, Yorkie, which, as we and others have shown, is a direct regulator of the myc promoter. In this review we discuss the key findings that contributed to the identification of this regulatory network that links cell polarity to cell proliferation control.