There are only a few signalling pathways that have been as well conserved during evolution as the Notch signalling pathway. This is due to the pathway’s unique biological function. Notch enables two identical cells to develop into completely different tissues. Anette Preiß, professor at the University of Hohenheim, has been working on the function of the Notch signalling pathway for almost 20 years.
Professor Preiβ’s group is currently investigating how Notch and Hairless compete with each other on a molecular level. “If we succeed in understanding how this works in Drosophila, then we might also gain deeper insights into human pathways, and potentially develop suitable drugs that will be able to interfere with these pathways,” said Preiβ. Disorders in the Notch signalling pathway can lead to diseases in humans. For example, the autosomal dominant disorder CADASIL, which is characterised by recurrent strokes, is caused by mutations of the Notch3 receptor. The Alagille syndrome, which is characterised by chronic liver disease, is caused by mutations of one of the ligands involved in the Notch pathway. Notch also plays a part in the development of numerous cancers. The researchers therefore have their work cut out for the future. Professor Preiβ knows from her own experience that the “Notch signalling pathway plays a role in almost all processes; it will therefore always crop up in our investigations.”