Integration of Drosophila and Human Genetics to Understand Notch Signaling Related Diseases

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2018:1066:141-185. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-89512-3_8.


Notch signaling research dates back to more than one hundred years, beginning with the identification of the Notch mutant in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Since then, research on Notch and related genes in flies has laid the foundation of what we now know as the Notch signaling pathway. In the 1990s, basic biological and biochemical studies of Notch signaling components in mammalian systems, as well as identification of rare mutations in Notch signaling pathway genes in human patients with rare Mendelian diseases or cancer, increased the significance of this pathway in human biology and medicine. In the 21st century, Drosophila and other genetic model organisms continue to play a leading role in understanding basic Notch biology. Furthermore, these model organisms can be used in a translational manner to study underlying mechanisms of Notch-related human diseases and to investigate the function of novel disease associated genes and variants. In this chapter, we first briefly review the major contributions of Drosophila to Notch signaling research, discussing the similarities and differences between the fly and human pathways. Next, we introduce several biological contexts in Drosophila in which Notch signaling has been extensively characterized. Finally, we discuss a number of genetic diseases caused by mutations in genes in the Notch signaling pathway in humans and we expand on how Drosophila can be used to study rare genetic variants associated with these and novel disorders. By combining modern genomics and state-of-the art technologies, Drosophila research is continuing to reveal exciting biology that sheds light onto mechanisms of disease.

Keywords: Drosophila; Functional genomics; Mendelian diseases; Notch signaling; Translational research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila Proteins* / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins* / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn* / genetics
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Proteins* / genetics
  • Neoplasm Proteins* / metabolism
  • Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Receptors, Notch* / genetics
  • Receptors, Notch* / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • N protein, Drosophila
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Receptors, Notch