How do They Know? Signalling Between Cells in the Vertebrate Embryo
A primordium, or anlage, is an aggregation of cells in the embryo indicating the first trace of an organ or structure. These embryonic aggregates are physically separated from one another by embryonic boundaries, which keep the integrity of the cell aggregates intact and prevent cells on either side of the boundaries from mixing. Virtually nothing is known about the cellular basis of these boundaries and about the processes that lead to their formation.
The mechanisms which regulate the primordia are fundamental questions for cell biologists, including Dr. Francois Fagotto, who is an expert in cell and developmental biology and invertebrate zoology. As the Canada Research Chair in Vertebrate Embryonic Development, Dr. Fagotto is trying to identify the cellular mechanisms that mediate the separation of embryonic tissues and those related to the formation of embryonic boundaries.
During embryo development, the activation or repression of specific sets of genes is caused by secretion-mediated signals, which affect nuclear activity and cell membrane function, including cell migration and cell-to-cell interaction. The cellular mechanisms that Dr. Fagotto studies include the signalling that goes on between cells in order for the cells to move to the proper locations and make contact with other cells as they build various organs.
Cell behaviour and gene activity are tightly coordinated in adult tissues as well. Dr. Fagotto's research results are also expected to provide insights into pathological processes in adult tissues, including the invasion of tumours and development of cancer.
Dr. Fagotto is collaborating with ongoing research at the McGill Cancer Centre, the department of biology, and other units at McGill.