Cellular and molecular mechanisms of single and collective cell migrations in Drosophila: themes and variations

Annu Rev Genet. 2014;48:295-318. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genet-120213-092218.


The process of cell migration is essential throughout life, driving embryonic morphogenesis and ensuring homeostasis in adults. Defects in cell migration are a major cause of human disease, with excessive migration causing autoimmune diseases and cancer metastasis, whereas reduced capacity for migration leads to birth defects and immunodeficiencies. Myriad studies in vitro have established a consensus view that cell migrations require cell polarization, Rho GTPase-mediated cytoskeletal rearrangements, and myosin-mediated contractility. However, in vivo studies later revealed a more complex picture, including the discovery that cells migrate not only as single units but also as clusters, strands, and sheets. In particular, the role of E-Cadherin in cell motility appears to be more complex than previously appreciated. Here, we discuss recent advances achieved by combining the plethora of genetic tools available to the Drosophila geneticist with live imaging and biophysical techniques. Finally, we discuss the emerging themes such studies have revealed and ponder the puzzles that remain to be solved.

Keywords: EMT; chemotaxis; development; tubulogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement / genetics*
  • Cytoskeleton / genetics*
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Drosophila / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Morphogenesis*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics