Collective Cell Death and Canonical Pathways

Stained cells
Cell groups die collectively throughout the epithelium, with obvious parallels to glandular involution in mammals.

Prompted by unique phenotypes associated with cell-death mutations, we developed live reporter systems for real-time imaging of epithelial cell death in vivo. Combining these tools with examination of tissue mosaics for apoptotic activity, we discovered a form of collective cell death, where synchronous apoptosis is coordinated throughout the tissue and causes wholesale loss of an entire epithelium within minutes.

This collective behavior starkly contrasts with typical apoptosis models in developing systems, where a single cell, surrounded by viable neighbors, sporadically initiates apoptosis. Current studies are examining how collective cell death is controlled and coordinated to affect dramatic change as part of tissue remodeling.


An apoptotic wave progresses through the epithelium of a Drosophila wing in minutes. Left: low magnification. Right: High magnification.

Collective cell death is visualized here in the genetic mosaics. Green cells are wild type for the apoptosome, Orange cells lack the apoptosome and fail to die.