Cell Aggregation Assays to Evaluate the Binding of the Drosophila Notch with Trans-Ligands and its Inhibition by Cis-Ligands

J Vis Exp. 2018 Jan 2;(131):56919. doi: 10.3791/56919.


Notch signaling is an evolutionarily conserved cell-cell communication system used broadly in animal development and adult maintenance. Interaction of the Notch receptor with ligands from neighboring cells induces activation of the signaling pathway (trans-activation), while interaction with ligands from the same cell inhibits signaling (cis-inhibition). Proper balance between trans-activation and cis-inhibition helps establish optimal levels of Notch signaling in some contexts during animal development. Because of the overlapping expression domains of Notch and its ligands in many cell types and the existence of feedback mechanisms, studying the effects of a given post-translational modification on trans- versus cis-interactions of Notch and its ligands in vivo is difficult. Here, we describe a protocol for using Drosophila S2 cells in cell-aggregation assays to assess the effects of knocking down a Notch pathway modifier on the binding of Notch to each ligand in trans and in cis. S2 cells stably or transiently transfected with a Notch-expressing vector are mixed with cells expressing each Notch ligand (S2-Delta or S2-Serrate). Trans-binding between the receptor and ligands results in the formation of heterotypic cell aggregates and is measured in terms of the number of aggregates per mL composed of >6 cells. To examine the inhibitory effect of cis-ligands, S2 cells co-expressing Notch and each ligand are mixed with S2-Delta or S2-Serrate cells and the number of aggregates is quantified as described above. The relative decrease in the number of aggregates due to the presence of cis-ligands provides a measure of cis-ligand-mediated inhibition of trans-binding. These straightforward assays can provide semi-quantitative data on the effects of genetic or pharmacological manipulations on the binding of Notch to its ligands, and can help deciphering the molecular mechanisms underlying the in vivo effects of such manipulations on Notch signaling.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Aggregation / physiology
  • Drosophila / cytology*
  • Drosophila / metabolism*
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism*
  • Ligands


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Ligands