Drosophila tools and assays for the study of human diseases

Dis Model Mech. 2016 Mar;9(3):235-44. doi: 10.1242/dmm.023762.


Many of the internal organ systems of Drosophila melanogaster are functionally analogous to those in vertebrates, including humans. Although humans and flies differ greatly in terms of their gross morphological and cellular features, many of the molecular mechanisms that govern development and drive cellular and physiological processes are conserved between both organisms. The morphological differences are deceiving and have led researchers to undervalue the study of invertebrate organs in unraveling pathogenic mechanisms of diseases. In this review and accompanying poster, we highlight the physiological and molecular parallels between fly and human organs that validate the use of Drosophila to study the molecular pathogenesis underlying human diseases. We discuss assays that have been developed in flies to study the function of specific genes in the central nervous system, heart, liver and kidney, and provide examples of the use of these assays to address questions related to human diseases. These assays provide us with simple yet powerful tools to study the pathogenic mechanisms associated with human disease-causing genes.

Keywords: Drosophila; Fat body; Heart; Human disease models; Kidney; Liver; Malpighian tubules; Nephrocytes; Nervous system; Neurodegeneration; Oenocyte; Regeneration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Assay
  • Disease*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Organ Specificity