Modeling human brain tumors in flies, worms, and zebrafish: From proof of principle to novel therapeutic targets

Uswa Shahzad, Michael S. Taccone, Sachin A. Kumar, Hidehiro Okura, Stacey Krumholtz, Joji Ishida, Coco Mine, Kyle Gouveia, Julia Edgar, Christian Smith, Madeline Hayes, Xi Huang, W. Brent Derry, Michael D. Taylor, James T. Rutka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


For decades, cell biologists and cancer researchers have taken advantage of non-murine species to increase our understanding of the molecular processes that drive normal cell and tissue development, and when perturbed, cause cancer. The advent of whole-genome sequencing has revealed the high genetic homology of these organisms to humans. Seminal studies in non-murine organisms such as Drosophila melanogaster, Caenorhabditis elegans, and Danio rerio identified many of the signaling pathways involved in cancer. Studies in these organisms offer distinct advantages over mammalian cell or murine systems. Compared to murine models, these three species have shorter lifespans, are less resource intense, and are amenable to high-throughput drug and RNA interference screening to test a myriad of promising drugs against novel targets. In this review, we introduce species-specific breeding strategies, highlight the advantages of modeling brain tumors in each non-mammalian species, and underscore the successes attributed to scientific investigation using these models. We conclude with an optimistic proposal that discoveries in the fields of cancer research, and in particular neuro-oncology, may be expedited using these powerful screening tools and strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)718-731
Number of pages14
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • C elegans
  • Drosophila
  • Worms
  • Zebrafish
  • brain tumor
  • high-throughput screening
  • signaling pathways

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cancer Research


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