Unveiled an essential mechanism in embryonic development: the role of DNA copy number

During development, the programmed death of certain cells plays an essential role in organ formation and allows for proper growth. This cell death occurs in some cases as an effect of autophagy, a essential cellular process for the recycling of damaged or unwanted cell components and which, taken to the extreme, can end up eliminating the cell itself.

A research team from IRB Barcelona and IBMB (CSIC), led by Jordi Casanova It is Panagiotis Giannios revealed a new relationship between autophagy and the polyploidya phenomenon in which cells contain multiple copies of genetic material.

This discovery sheds light on the biological processes that shape organisms in their early stages of life.

Specifically, they identified a situation where the level of autophagy is much higher in cells the higher the number of DNA copies, even triggering this programmed cell death.

This discovery, published in the scientific journal Autophagy, sheds light on the biological processes that shape organisms in their early stages of life and paves the way for a better understanding of developmental diseases as well as cancer.

“Polyploidy is a common phenomenon in many species, including humans, although its effects are still largely unknown”, explains Jordi Casanova, head of the Development and Morphogenesis Laboratory in drosophila from the IRB Barcelona. “Understanding its implications could have a significant impact on medicine,” he adds.

Progenitor cells and polyploidy

To the progenitor cells They are cells that can give rise to different cell types. in the case of the fly Drosophila melanogasterhe animal model with which this study was performed, progenitor cells are larvae cells that retain the ability to generate adult organism.

In the case of cancer, it is common for cells to be generated with multiple copies of DNA (or polyploids).

Panagiotis Giannios, researcher

To the cells Parents do not show polyploidy (they have a single copy of the chromosome set) and this allows them to survive metamorphosis and form part of the adult.

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“In the case of cancer, it is common for cells to be generated with several copies of DNA (or polyploids) and this may allow them to better withstand, for example, chemotherapy treatment. That’s why it’s important to understand this process,” says Panagiotis Giannios, a postdoctoral researcher at the same laboratory.

Polyploidy in the trachea of ​​the vinegar fly

To study this process, the scientific team worked with the tracheas, the respiratory system of the Drosophila melanogaster as a study model, which have the same type of cells, some polypoid and others not.

“Working with the trachea of ​​the fly drosophila It allowed us to compare cells of the same type, some showing polyploidy and others not, and see how polyploidy correlates with cell death during metamorphosis”, explains Beatriz Pino-Jiménez, first author of the work, who carried out this project. as part of their doctoral studies.

The research team is now working to understand whether the polyploid cells respond better to stressful situations and what are the mechanisms underlying this response.

This work received funding from the Ministry of Science and Innovation of Spain and the Generalitat de Catalunya.


Pino-Jimenez, B. and others “Polyploidy-associated autophagy promotes larval tracheal histolysis in drosophila metamorphosis”. autophagy (2023)

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