We might think we’re very different from insects, but we can learn a surprising amount about ourselves from the humble fruit fly. Recently, experiments on flies have led to new insights into heart defects caused by abnormal development of the extracellular matrix (ECM), a network of collagens and proteins surrounding cells and anchoring tissues to each other. In the micrograph above, the cells of the fly heart (top, in red) are detached from the muscle fibres that should hold it in place (bottom, also red), leading to heart failure and death, as in the human diseases. This is caused by mutation in a protein that helps link the heart and muscles by recruiting collagen, normally covering the cells shown in green. Aptly named lonely heart, this protein belongs to the same family as those responsible for human conditions involving the ECM, suggesting that their function has barely changed during evolution.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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