Colorectal cancer progression: lessons from Drosophila?


Human colorectal cancers arise as benign adenomas, tumours that retain their epithelial character, and then progress to malignant adenocarcinomas and carcinomas in which the epithelium becomes disrupted. Carcinomas often exhibit transcriptional downregulation of E-cadherin and other epithelial genes in an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a mechanism first discovered in Drosophila to be mediated by the transcription factors Twist and Snail. In contrast, adenocarcinomas retain expression of E-cadherin and disruption of the epithelium occurs through formation of progressively smaller epithelial cysts with apical Crumbs/CRB3, Stardust/PALS1, and Bazooka/PAR3 localised to the inner lumen. Results from Drosophila show that morphologically similar cysts form upon induction of clonal heterogeneity in Wnt, Smad, or Ras signalling levels, which causes extrusion of epithelial cells at clonal boundaries. Thus, intratumour heterogeneity might also promote formation of adenocarcinomas in humans. Finally, epithelial cysts can collectively migrate, as in the case of Drosophila border cells, a potential model system for the invasive migration of adenocarcinoma cells.

Journal details

Volume 28
Pages 70-77
Publication date


Type of publication

Crick labs/facilities