Somatic muscle formation is an unusual process as it requires the cells involved, the myoblasts, to relinquish their individual state and fuse with one another to form a syncitial muscle fiber. The potential use of myoblast fusion therapies to rebuild damaged muscles has generated continuing interest in elucidating the molecular basis of the fusion process. Yet, until recently, few of the molecular players involved in this process had been identified. Now, however, it has been possible to couple a detailed understanding of the cellular basis of the fusion process with powerful classical and molecular genetic strategies in the Drosophila embryo. We review the cellular studies, and the recent genetic and biochemical analyses that uncovered interacting extracellular molecules present on fusing myoblasts and the intracellular effectors that facilitate fusion. With the conservation of proteins and protein functions across species, it is likely that these findings in Drosophila will benefit understanding of the myoblast fusion process in higher organisms.
Copyright 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.