Tumor suppressor genes, whose products are required for the control of cell proliferation, have been identified by their mutant phenotype of tissue overgrowth. Here we describe recent work on the molecular identification of tumor suppressor genes that function in two different cell types of the Drosophila larva: the blood cells, and the undifferentiated epithelial cells of developing imaginal discs. Mutations in the aberrant immune response8 (air8) gene lead to overproduction and precocious differentiation of blood cells. This gene encodes the Drosophila homolog of human ribosomal protein S6. The mutant phenotype is consistent with a role for S6 in the control of cell proliferation, and is compatible with findings from mammalian cells where alterations in S6 expression and phosphorylation are associated with changes in cell proliferation. Mutations in the discs large (dig) gene cause neoplastic overgrowth of imaginal discs in the larva. The mutant dises show loss of septate junctions and of apical-basal cell polarity, and they also lose the ability to differentiate cuticular structures. The dig protein product (DlgA) is localized at septate junctions between epithelial cells, and cDNA sequencing indicates that the gene product includes a domain with homology to guanylate kinase (GUK). Two mammalian homologs or this gene have been identified, and one of them (PSD-95/SAP90) encodes a component of synaptic densities in the brain; this protein therefore resembles the DlgA protein in being located in a specialized cell junction that functions in information transfer between cells. Mutations in the at gene cause hyperplastic imaginal disc overgrowth, in which the overgrowing disc tissue retains its epithelial structure and its ability to differentiate. Some of the excess disc tissue is shed as vesicles suggesting a loss of cell adhesion. In support of this hypothesis, the predicted gene product shows homology to cadherins in its extra-cellular domain. However, the fat protein is much larger than known cadherins. As in human cancer·, somatic loss of the normal alleles of tumor suppressor genes can lead to tumor formation in Drosophila; an example of this is provided by the warts (wts) locus. The wts gene was identified by the dramatic overgrowth of mitotic recombination clones that are homozygous for a wts deletion. In these clones the cuticle intrudes between epithelial cells, suggesting an alteration in cell adhesion. The study of these and other tumor suppressor genes in Drosophila is providing new evidence supporting the critical role of cell interactions and specialized apical junctions in controlling epithelial cell proliferation.

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