Edwin L. Ferguson, PhD
Embryonic patterning and stem cell maintenance in Drosophila

Professor, Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, Organismal Biology and Anatomy, Committee on Development, Regeneration, and Stem Cell Biology, Committee on Genetics, Genomics & Systems Biology, Committee on Cancer Biology

SB, Computer Science/Biology, M.I.T., 1976
PhD, M.I.T. and Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst., 1985


Research Summary

The lab approaches questions of pattern formation and cell fate specification in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Our current interests are the mechanisms underlying the patterning of the embryonic dorsal-ventral (D/V) axis and the asymmetric self-renewal divisions of adult stem cells.

The original focus of the lab was on the role of the Bone Morphogenetic Protein family member Decapentaplegic (Dpp) in patterning the D/V axis. In the past, we demonstrated that the system that patterns the embryonic D/V axis is conserved between arthropods and chordates, identified the mechanism by which the Spemann organizer patterns the Xenopus body axis, and characterized essential and modulatory components of the Dpp signal transduction pathway.

Recently, we showed that, although Dpp is broadly transcribed dorsally, receptor-bound Dpp is only observed in a sharp stripe comprising the dorsal-most cells. We demonstrated that formation of this pattern of Dpp – receptor interactions involves two distinct processes. First, Dpp undergoes long-range extracellular movement facilitated by the Dpp-binding protein Sog. Second, an intracellular positive feedback circuit promotes Dpp - receptor interactions as a function of previous signaling strength. The two processes cooperate to produce the observed spatial bistability of Dpp-receptor interactions.

We have also begun to investigate processes underlying maintenance of the germ line stem cells (GSCs) in the adult ovary. Like most adult stem cells, the GSCs are present in an environmental niche, which provides signals necessary for their maintenance. Dpp is a niche signal required for GSC maintenance. We hypothesize that interactions between the GSC and the surrounding niche cells create an intrinsic polarity in the GSC. This polarity both controls the plane of GSC division and elevates responsiveness to Dpp within the GSC. These two characteristics ensure a robust pattern of asymmetric, self-renewal divisions.

Selected Publications

Page, B. D., Diede, S. J., Tenlen J. R. and Ferguson, E. L. (2007). "EEL-1, a Hect E3 ubiquitin ligase, controls asymmetry and persistence of the SKN-1 transcription factor in the early C. elegans embryo. " Development 134: 2303-2314. (PubMed)

Wang, Y.-C. and Ferguson, E.L. (2005). "Spatial bistability of Dpp-receptor interactions during Drosophila dorsal-ventral patterning." Nature, 434: 229-234. (PubMed)

Casanueva, M. O. and Ferguson, E. L. (2004). "Germline stem cell number in the Drosophila ovary is regulated by redundant mechanisms that control Dpp signaling." Development 131: 1881-90. (PubMed)

Podos, S. D., Hanson, K. K., Wang, Y. C. and Ferguson, E. L. (2001). "The DSmurf ubiquitin-protein ligase restricts BMP signaling spatially and temporally during Drosophila embryogenesis." Developmental Cell 1: 567-78. (PubMed)

Decotto, E. and Ferguson, E. L. (2001). "A positive role for Short gastrulation in modulating BMP signaling during dorsoventral patterning in the Drosophila embryo." Development 128: 3831-41. (PubMed)

Neul, J. L., and Ferguson, E. L. (1998). Spatially-restricted activation of the SAX receptor by SCW modulates DPP/TKV signaling in Drosophila dorsal-ventral patterning. Cell 95: 483-494. (PubMed)

Holley, S. A., Neul, J. L., Attisano, L., Wrana, J. L., Sasai, Y., O'Connor, M. B., De Robertis, E. M. and Ferguson, E. L. (1996). "The Xenopus dorsalizing factor noggin ventralizes Drosophila embryos by preventing DPP from activating its receptor." Cell 86: 607-17. (PubMed)

Holley, S. A., Jackson, P. D., Sasai, Y., Lu, B., De Robertis, E. M., Hoffmann, F. M. and Ferguson, E. L. (1995). "A conserved system for dorsal-ventral patterning in insects and vertebrates involving sog and chordin." Nature 376: 249-53. (PubMed)


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