What will we learn next about how organs communicate?

 4 January 2022   Research News

Professor Irene Miguel-Aliaga, Head of the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMS) Gut Signalling and Metabolism Research Group, spoke to Developmental Cell about current understanding of inter-organ communication and where she thinks this field of research is heading.

“For hundreds of years, scientists have wondered how organs communicate. We are now able to tackle this question with unprecedented granularity. Moving beyond the “textbook” roles of peptide hormones, we are revealing inter-organ exchanges of metabolites, nucleic acids, organelles, and even microbes. I am curious to see what else organs trade and why; I suspect that we have underestimated the importance of mechanical cues in this context.

“Advances in interrogating and interfering with gene expression with spatiotemporal resolution will allow us to explore the geometry and dynamics of inter-organ crosstalk. If we manage not to get lost in the details, we might be able to reveal whether there is a 3D spatial logic to how organs are positioned relative to one another and how they communicate. Similarly, by describing information sequences over time, rather than taking snapshots, we should move beyond identifying inter-organ signals to reveal an inter-organ language of sorts; might that reveal some inter-organ grammar?

“As we uncover these new layers and dimensions, we will learn about the tripartite interactions between gene regulation, mechanics, and metabolism that make organs grow, remodel, and decline, blurring the somewhat artificial boundary between developmental biology and physiology.

“Finally, as we survey communication across scales (from inter-organelle to inter-organ crosstalk), we will not only reveal general features of information transfer but also shed light on the key biophysical constraints that confine certain information exchange features to particular scales.”

20 years of Developmental Cell: Looking forward” was published in Developmental Cell on 06 December 2021.

Professor Miguel-Aliaga leads the LMS Gut Signalling and Metabolism research group, which through its utilisation of a fruit fly model organism has found there are sex differences in the gastrointestinal tracts of fruit flies. The group has shown successful reproduction is dependent on the fruit fly female gut being female, and the male gut being male. And also, that these sex differences impact on food intake and cancer susceptibility. A question currently being explored by the group, is whether these sex differences are also found in mammalian gastrointestinal tracts, or even within our own human gut.