Most animal cells are polarized, they show structural asymmetries essential to their function. By breaking symmetry cells are able to generate diversity, migrate, and organise themselves into more complex structures such as tissues and organs.

Dysregulation of polarity leads to developmental disorders, including cancer. Tumour progression is correlated with disruption of epithelial polarity and randomized orientation of the cell division plane caused by misplacement of the mitotic spindle. In addition, recent experiments show that disruption of asymmetric stem cell division could be a hallmark of cancer. These observations show the importance of cell polarity for the correct development of an organism and the tight regulation required between cell polarity mechanisms and the cytoskeleton.

A crucial step in the polarization of animal cells is the localization of conserved polarity effectors to discrete membrane domains on the cell surface. Our aim is to understand (1) how these molecular asymmetries are achieved and (2) how these asymmetries regulate cell polarization processes. As a step towards this goal, we have generated a comprehensive polarity genetic network.

Currently we are exploiting the polarity network to specifically find regulators of cell polarity induction in the asymmetric first cell division of the nematode C. elegans; a well-established model where key polarity mechanisms have been found. We are using state-of-the-art genetic, biochemical, molecular, live cell-micromanipulation and imaging techniques to determine the cell polarity role of the identified genes.

Our hope it that by understanding the fundamental biological principles of cell polarity we can aid the design of therapeutics for developmental disorders.