The Duncan Lab

Department of Biology

Willamette University

           Non nobis solum nati sumus


The cytoskeleton of a eukaryotic cell is dynamic. Its structure is regulated spatially and temporally. Regulation of the cytoskeleton is critical for most basic functions of a cell including intracellular transport, cell morphology, cell polarity, cell division, and coordinated cell movement, as well as the formation of sub-cellular structures such as centrioles, mitotic spindle, focal adhesions, contractile ring, lamellipodia, filopodia, microvilli, flagella and cilia. Dysregulation of the cytoskeleton in humans manifests in numerous diseases including cancer, heart disease, myopathies, ciliopathies, and neurodegenerative diseases. Thus, a complete understanding of cytoskeletal regulation is of great scientific interest. Our long-term goal is to understand how the cytoskeleton is regulated to support critical cell functions.

    We employ a molecular genetics approach in Drosophila melanogaster to 1) identify novel proteins that regulate the structure of microfilaments (MF’s) and microtubules (MT’s), and 2) identify novel in vivo functions for regulators of MF and MT dynamics. Our studies focus on two tissues acutely dependent on a specialized and highly regulated cytoskeleton; the nervous system and the female germline. Dysregulation of the cytoskeleton in these tissues results in easily identifiable phenotypes, simplifying large-scale, non-biased genetic screens aimed at identifying genes required for cytoskeleton regulation.

    We performed several genetic screens to identify genes encoding cytoskeletal regulators in these tissues. Thus far, we have identified 12 genes required for MT-based axonal transport, 7 that encode proteins with previously known requirements for nervous system function, including the MT regulatory protein Stathmin. We have also identified 5 genes required for regulation of the cytoskeleton in the female germline, including a phosphatase encoded by the slingshot gene.


Welcome to the Duncan Lab Home Page





Images: A) Confocal micrograph of a Stage17 Drosophila embryo stained with anti-Futsch (mAb 22c10) to highlight the nervous system (Photo: Duncan), B) Wildtype Drosophila wing (Photo: Duncan), C) Spontaneous somatic eye mutation in Drosophila (Photo: Duncan), and D) Scanning electron micrograph of the external genitalia of a wildtype Drosophila adult male (Photo: Zuniga).