5 July

“Riding with the Wnt”: Investigating the role of Wnt signaling in cell migration

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Loranzo Rella has successfully defended his thesis July 5 and shown that in worms the Wnt pathway is crucial for the migration of neuroblast during development.

During his PhD in the group of Rik Korswagen, the  goal was to achieve a better understanding of how animals develop from embryogenesis to adulthood. Specifically, Rella studied how cells acquire and control their movement to sculpt the final shape of an organism. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that regulate cellular movement during development will provide insight into how these processes are deregulated in diseases such as cancer metastasis.

In order to do this, Rella used a small nematode (round worm), called C. elegans,as a model organism to study these basic molecular mechanisms. During its development, the QR neuroblast and its two descendants migrate from the posterior to the anterior part of the animal. Using time-lapse imaging he has been able to characterize the highly directional movement of these cells, visualizing the dynamic features of this cell migration process in vivo.


Together with colleagues of the Hubrecht Institute, Rella found that the evolutionarily conserved Wnt signaling pathway is necessary for these cells to migrate and terminate their migration at a well-defined position along the anterior-posterior axis of the animal. Interestingly, the specific location where the cells stop is instructed by a cell intrinsic mechanism rather than extracellular guidance cues. He identified novel target genes activated by Wnt signaling that are important effectors of this cellular migration process.

Beside increasing the knowledge about the shaping forces that drive animal development, the experiments performed for this PhD will be helpful to gain a deeper understanding of the molecular mechanisms that characterize cancer metastasis, and in particular the role of Wnt signaling in this process.