Investigation into the factors mediating embryonic muscle migration in Caenorhaditis elegans

During embryonic development, precursor muscle cells (myoblasts) are generated in one region of the embryo and then dispersed throughout the body. These migrations are controlled by external signals that guide the migrating cells. Previous muscle research has identified genes for muscle differentiation and development, but the important genes regulating muscle cell migrations have are unknown. Muscle cell migration is of particular importance for a new treatment called myoblast transfer therapy, which is being developed to treat muscular dystrophy and hearts damaged by cardiac arrest. The treatment injects healthy myoblasts into the damaged area in order to repair the affected tissue. A key problem in this treatment is that, for both cardiac and muscle tissue, the myoblasts fail to migrate properly and effectively colonize the damaged area. Ryan Viveiros is studying the embryonic development of a small nematode worm called Caenorhabditis elegans. While substantially simpler than humans, these worms also have muscle and share a number of the same genes required for muscle development as mammals. Because the worm embryos develop inside clear eggs, Viveiros can record the developing embryo and watch the cell migrations in real time. Computer software then allows him to follow the cell migrations and determine which cell types are defective. Viveiros will search for the genes that cause improper muscle migration and determine where these genes are turned on in the embryo. In addition to determining the basics of how muscle migration occurs, Viveiros hopes his findings could lead to new insights for improving myoblast transfer therapy. In addition, because this research is also relevant to cell migration in general, his findings may also inform our understanding of how cancer cells migrate (metastasize).