Cell polarization is crucial for the development of multicellular organisms and aberrant cell polarization contributes to various diseases. Seminal studies in invertebrates identified proteins that regulate various polarization processes including asymmetric cell division and epithelial cell polarization. Polarity proteins may react to extrinsic polarity cues such as growth factor gradients or extrinsic cues such as the microtubule cytoskeleton. By assembling multiprotein complexes, they induce downstream signaling to establish cellular asymmetry. Of the three polarity protein complexes described so far – Par3, Crumbs and Scribble – the Par3 complex has the broadest function. Furthermore, cross-talk between polarity proteins and Rho GTPase signaling components controls formation of cell-cell contacts and apico-basal polarity in epithelial cells. For decades, loss of apico-basal polarity has been considered a prerequisite for tumor formation and progression.
The research of our group focuses on the function of polarity proteins in skin homeostasis and in age-related pathologic conditions including cancer. We are investigating cell type-specific functions of polarity proteins, and studying the consequences of deregulated polarity signaling on cellular architecture, survival mechanisms and cell death. Overall, our aim is to better understand how cell polarity affects age-associated pathologies to reveal novel directions for targeted therapies.