Department of Biochemistry University of Oxford Department of Biochemistry
University of Oxford
South Parks Road
Oxford OX1 3QU

Tel: +44 (0)1865 613200
Fax: +44 (0)1865 613201
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Ilan Davis
mRNA Localisation in Drosophila

Co-workers: Graeme Ball, Sam Cooper, James Halstead, Russell Hamilton, Suzanne McDermott, Carine Meignin, Richard Parton, Jan Soetaert, Ana Maria Valles, Tim Weil

Lab website with further details

A key question in biology is how different molecules are sorted and kept at their correct destinations within cells. For example, how mRNA localization and translational regulation target proteins to their site of function and facilitate memory and learning in the nervous system.

Considerable intracellular sorting is achieved by molecular motors transporting cargo along the cytoskeleton, a system analogous to a trains transporting cargo on train tracks. We have been studying the tickets (RNA signals) that determine which train (dynein motor) will be used by different passengers (RNA cargo) and how the ticket inspector (trans acting protein factors) chose which trains the passengers can travel on.

We have shown that the passengers are kept at the final destination by remaining attached to the engine (dynein motor) on the track (microtubules). Once it arrives at the destination, the cargo remains there even if the engine is switched off (ATPase activity of the motor is inhibited) and the driver and guard go home (motor cofactors inhibited).

We have been studying these processes in living cells using highly sensitive microscopy techniques, which can reveal the detailed dynamics of RNA movement. We are studying these processes in embryos and oocytes and in the nervous system.


  1. Halstead JM, Lin YQ, Durraine L, Hamilton RS, Ball G, Neely GG, Bellen HJ, Davis I. (2014) Syncrip/hnRNP Q influences synaptic transmission and regulates BMP signaling at the Drosophila neuromuscular synapse. Biol Open. 3:839-49.
  2. McDermott SM, Yang L, Halstead JM, Hamilton RS, Meignin C, Davis I. (2014) Drosophila Syncrip modulates the expression of mRNAs encoding key synaptic proteins required for morphology at the neuromuscular junction. RNA. 20:1593-606.
  3. Parton RM, Davidson A, Davis I, Weil TT. (2014) Subcellular mRNA localisation at a glance. J Cell Sci. 127:2127-33.
  4. Weil TT, Parton RM, Herpers B, Soetaert J, Veenendaal T, Xanthakis D, Dobbie IM, Halstead JM, Hayashi R, Rabouille C, Davis I. (2012). Drosophila patterning is established by differential association of mRNAs with P bodies. Nat Cell Biol. 14: 1305-13.
  5. Parton RM, Hamilton RS, Ball G, Yang L, Cullen CF, Lu W, Ohkura H, Davis I. (2011). PAR-1-dependent orientation gradient of dynamic microtubules directs posterior cargo transport in the Drosophila oocyte. J Cell Biol. 194: 21-35.
More Publications...

Research Images

Figure 1: Intracellular mRNA transport illustrated with a train analogy. The train tracks represent the polarized microtubule cytoskeleton, engines represent molecular motors (dynein and kinesin) and the passengers represent different RNA cargo (gurken, wingless ftz and oskar mRNA)


Figure 2: The movement of gurken (TGFalpha) RNA from the nurse cells into the oocyte in Drosophila egg chambers. After injection into the nurse cells, gurken RNA (red), assembles into particles that move through the ring canals (green), connecting the nurse cells (left) to the oocyte (right). The particles are shown as trails by superimposing multiple time points from a time lapse movie onto a single image

Figure 3: Syncytial blastoderm embryo expressing a nuclear GFP (green) injected with red RNA, which was allowed to fully localized followed by far red RNA (shown in cyan), which has not yet localized. Injection of inhibitory reagents can then assay distinct requirements for transport (blue RNA) and anchoring (red RNA) in the same living embryo


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