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The Gurdon Institute


2017 St JohnstonDaniel St Johnston PhD FRS FMedSci, Wellcome Principal Research Fellow, Professor of Developmental Genetics in the Department of Genetics.

St Johnston Group website | Europe PMC | Pubmed 




Polarising epithelial cells and body axes

How do cells know ‘up’ from ‘down’?  Most cells in the body perform different functions at opposite sides of the cell. This cell polarity is essential in development, for example: in determining the head-to-tail axis of many animals, for cell migration and for asymmetric stem-cell divisions. Furthermore, loss of polarity is a hallmark of tumour cells and is thought to contribute to tissue invasion and metastasis.

Our work focuses on epithelia, the sheets of polarised cells that form barriers between compartments and make up most of our organs and tissues. We study the factors that mark different sides of epithelial cells and how these organise the internal cell architecture, using Drosophila and intestinal organoids as models.

We have recently discovered that the gut epithelium polarises by a fundamentally different mechanism from other fly epithelia, and is much more similar to mammalian epithelia. We are now identifying new polarity factors in the fly gut and are testing whether these play similar roles in mouse intestinal organoids. We are also using live microscopy to visualise polarised secretion in epithelial cells, and quantitative super-resolution microscopy to examine the clustering and co-localisation of polarity proteins.


• Lovegrove H, Bergstralh DT, St Johnston D. (2019) The role of integrins in Drosophila egg chamber morphogenesis. Development Nov 29. pii: dev.182774. DOI: 10.1242/dev.182774.

• Erdmann RS, Wood Baguley S, Richens JH, Wissner RF, Xi Z, Allgeyer ES, Zhong S, Thompson AD, Lowe N, Butler R, Bewersdorf J, Rothman JE, St Johnston D, Schepartz A, Toomre D. (2019) Labeling strategies matter for super-resolution microscopy: a comparison between HaloTags and SNAP-tags. Cell Chem. Biol. 26, 1-9.

• Fic W, Faria C, St Johnston D. (2019) IMP regulates Kuzbanian to control the timing of Notch signalling in Drosophila follicle cells. Development 146(2). pii: dev168963. doi: 10.1242/dev.168963.

• Chen J, Sayadian AC, Lowe N, Lovegrove HE, St Johnston D. (2018) An alternative mode of epithelial polarity in the Drosophila midgut. PLoS Biol 16(10):e3000041. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000041.

• St Johnston D. (2018) Establishing and transducing cell polarity: common themes and variations. Curr Opin Cell Biol 51:33-41. doi: 10.1016/

• Nieuwburg R, Nashchekin D, Jakobs M, Carter AP, Khuc Trong P, Goldstein RE, St Johnston D. (2017) Localised dynactin protects growing microtubules to deliver oskar mRNA to the posterior cortex of the Drosophila oocyte. Elife 6. pii: e27237. doi: 10.7554/eLife.27237.

• Bergstralh DT, Dawney NS, St Johnston D. (2017) Spindle orientation: a question of complex positioning. Development 144(7):1137-1145. doi:10.1242/dev.140764. 

• Trovisco V, Belaya K, Nashchekin D, Irion U, Sirinakis G, Butler R, Lee JJ, Gavis ER, St Johnston D. (2016) bicoid mRNA localises to the Drosophila oocyte anterior by random Dynein-mediated transport and anchoring. Elife 5. pii: e17537. doi: 10.7554/eLife.17537.

St Johnston group (Nov18 to Feb19)


Edward Allgeyer • Jia Chen • Jin Mei Cheng • Hélène Doerflinger • Xiao Li He • Florence Leroy • Dmitry Nashchekin • John Overton • Amandine Palandri • Jenny Richens • George Sirinakis • Mihoko Tame • Joseph Jose Thottacherry • Helen Zenner • Xixi Zhu

Video: Meet Daniel St Johnston

Daniel describes his research on special properties of epithelial cells that give insights into disease.

Watch on YouTube