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
Image showing the global movement of lipids in a model planar membrane
Matthieu Chavent, Sansom lab
Anaphase bridges in fission yeast cells
Whitby lab
Lactose permease represented using bending cylinders in Bendix software
Caroline Dahl, Sansom lab
Epithelial cells in C. elegans showing a seam cell that failed to undergo cytokinesis
Serena Ding, Woollard lab
Collage of Drosophila third instar larva optic lobe
Lu Yang, Davis lab
First year Biochemistry students at a practical class
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Petros Ligoxygakis
Drosophila as a model host to study innate immunity

Co-workers: Ilias Kounatidis, Maria Gravato-Nobre, Jack Dorling, Megan Sloan, Srishti Arora and Sergio Filipe (sabbatical visitor)

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster provides a major model system for examining many different biological problems. Our research makes use of Drosophila for investigations into innate immunity the first line host defence conserved in all metazoans. Research in our laboratory is developing along three major lines:

1. Innate immunity is dependent on germ-line coded receptors that recognise conserved pathogen-associated molecules that do not exist in the host. We are investigating the question of how a relatively small number of such receptors are able to sense the vast variability of pathogens and how host recognition changes when the microbial cell wall is altered.  

2. We are also studying the cost of having immunity during the life course of the organism. We know that lack of an immune system can allow fatal disease. But is there a price to pay for being able to mount an immune response too? In Drosophila (as in humans), innate immune output is increased in an age-dependent manner and this contributes to systemic healthy ageing.

However, too much immune signalling over the lifespan of a fly or a mouse (and probably a human too) leads to neurodegenerative disease. This balance of the right amount of immune signalling seems to be centred on NF-kB, a protein paramount for immune regulation in most metazoans. We find that the glial cells of the brain are important for maintaining the balance of immune function vs. immune suppression in the absence of infection and that the gut and its bacteria (intestinal microbiota) are also important interacting factors to determine lifespan and health span through immunity

3. We are developing Drosophila as a model for studying infection by gut-dwelling trypanosomatid parasites that naturally infect fruitflies. Making use of the sophisticated tool-box available for Drosophila will help "unlock" more difficult, medically important insects vectors of parasitic disease like sandflies or tsetse flies.     


  1. NF-κB Immunity in the Brain Determines Fly Lifespan in Healthy Aging and Age-Related Neurodegeneration. Kounatidis I, Chtarbanova S, Cao Y, Hayne M, Jayanth D, Ganetzky B, Ligoxygakis P.
    Cell Rep. 2017 Apr 25;19(4):836-848. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2017.04.007.
  2. Interaction Between Familial Transmission and a Constitutively Active Immune System Shapes Gut Microbiota in Drosophila melanogaster. Mistry R, Kounatidis I, Ligoxygakis P.
    Genetics. 2017 Jun;206(2):889-904. doi: 10.1534/genetics.116.190215.
  3. MicroRNAs That Contribute to Coordinating the Immune Response in Drosophila melanogaster. Atilano ML, Glittenberg M, Monteiro A, Copley RR, Ligoxygakis P.
    Genetics. 2017 Sep;207(1):163-178. doi: 10.1534/genetics.116.196584.
  4. Insect Immunity. Ligoxygakis P (ed). Advances in Insect Physiology. 2017 Volume 52 Academic Press.

Research Images

GFP expression controlled by the promoter of the antimicrobial peptide (AMP) gene drosomycin. In non-infected flies (top left panel) GFP is expressed only in barrier epithelia whereas following infection, systemic expression of GFP can be observed. Top right panel shows the same phenomenon in larvae. The fat body (the insect equivalent of the mammalian liver) is the major site of synthesis and secretion of AMPs (bottom two panels)


Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Positions: Enquiries with CV welcome