skip to primary navigationskip to content

Benedicte Sanson

Morphogenesis of early embryos: in vivo mechanisms for cell sorting and collective cell movement
Benedicte  Sanson

University Lecturer

Wellcome Trust Investigator

Office Phone: +44 (0) 1223 333893, Fax: +44 (0) 1223 333840

Research Interests

Cell sorting: functional analysis of putative Myosin II regulators

We have recently demonstrated using Chromophore-Assisted Laser Inactivation (CALI) in live Drosophila embryos, that a pool of Myosin II which forms cables at compartmental boundaries, is required for cell sorting at these boundaries (Monier et al, 2010, Nature Cell Biology, vol 12: 60-5). Using live imaging, we showed that this supracellular cable of Myosin II is required to stop dividing cells in one compartment from invading the adjacent compartment. To understand how actomyosin barriers form and function, we have performed a screen to find YFP-tagged proteins localising at these barriers. We are now testing the role of these proteins in compartmental cell sorting and in actomyosin barrier formation.

Collective cell movements: whole volume imaging of gastrulation in live embryos

We have mapped the collective cell movements during Drosophila embryo gastrulation and found that an axial force deforms the ectodermal cells (Butler et al, 2009, Nature Cell Biology, vol 11: 859-64). This gives us an unprecedented opportunity to analyse how active cell behaviours and extrinsic forces mechanistically interact to shape embryos. We have evidence that mesoderm invagination might provide the axial force that propels ectoderm convergence and extension. Analysing the relationship between these two morphogenetic movements will require characterising cell shapes in 3D (using cell membrane and nuclei labelling) and mapping their positions in the whole embryo volume, as a function of developmental time.


Wellcome Trust, BBSRC, Newton Trust


Guy Blanchard
Richard Adams
Huw Naylor (Research Assistant and Lab Manager)
Tara Finegan (Wellcome Trust and University of Cambridge Programme in Developmental Biology PhD student)
Cédric Finet (Postdoctoral Research Associate)
Claire Lye (Herchel Smith Postdoctoral Fellow)
Jose-Maria Urbano (Postdoctoral Research Associate)

Key Publications

Lye CM, Naylor HW, Sanson B, (2014), Subcellular localisations of the CPTI collection of YFP-tagged proteins in Drosophila embryos, Development, 141: 4006-4017

Lowe N, Rees JS, Roote J, Ryder E, Armean IM, Johnson G, Drummond E, Spriggs H, Drummond J, Magbanua JP, Naylor H, Sanson B, Bastock R, Huelsmann S, Trovisco V, Landgraf M, Knowles-Barley S, Armstrong JD, White-Cooper H, Hansen C, Roger G. Phillips, The UK Drosophila Protein Trap Screening Consortium, Lilley KS, Russell S, St Johnston D, (2014), Analysis of the expression patterns, subcellular localisations and interaction partners of Drosophila proteins using a pigP protein trap library, Development, 141: 3994- 4005

St Johnston D, Sanson B, (2011), Epithelial polarity and morphogenesis, Curr Opin Cell Biol, 23:540-546

Lye C, Sanson B, (2011), Tension and epithelial morphogenesis in Drosophila early embryos, Curr Top Dev Biol, 95: 145-187

Monier B, Pélissier-Monier A, Sanson B, (2011), Establishment and maintenance of compartmental boundaries: role of contractile actomyosin barriers, Cell Mol Life Sci, 68: 1897-910

Monier B, Pelissier-Monier A, Brand AH, Sanson B, (2010), An actomyosin-based barrier inhibits cell mixing at compartmental boundaries in Drosophila embryos, Nat Cell Biol, 12: 60-65 [Paper evaluated as "exceptional" by Faculty1000. Highlighted in Martin AC, Wieschaus EF, Nat Cell Biol, 2010 12: 5-7; Baumann K, Nature Reviews in Molecular Cell Biology, 2010, 11: 4-5; The Scientist, 2010, 24: 67; Editor's choice in Development]

Butler LC, Blanchard GB, Kabla AJ, Lawrence NJ, Welchman DP, Mahadevan L, Adams RJ, Sanson B, (2009), Cell shape changes indicate a role for extrinsic tensile forces in Drosophila germ-band extension, Nat Cell Biol, 11: 859-864 [Paper evaluated as "must read" by Faculty1000. Awarded the international 2010 Drosophila Image Award]

Blanchard GB, Kabla AJ, Schultz NL, Butler LC, Sanson B, Gorfinkiel N, Mahadevan L, Adams RJ, (2009), Tissue tectonics: morphogenetic strain rates, cell shape change and intercalation, Nat Methods, 6: 458-464 [Awarded the international 2010 Drosophila Image Award]

Chandraratna D, Lawrence N, Welchman D, Sanson B, (2007), An in vivo model of apoptosis: linking cell behaviours and caspase substrates in embryos lacking DIAP1, J Cell Sci, 120: 2594-2608

Desbordes SC, Chandraratna D, Sanson B, (2005), A screen for genes regulating Wingless distribution in Drosophila embryos, Genetics, 170: 749-766

Sanson B, (2004), Do glypicans play a role in Wingless signalling in Drosophila? Development, 131: 2511-2513

Desbordes S, Sanson B, (2003), The glypican Dally-like is required for Hedgehog signalling in the embryonic epidermis of Drosophila, Development, 130: 6245-6255

Sanson B, (2001), Generating patterns from fields of cells: examples from Drosophila segmentation, EMBO Rep, 2: 1083-1088

Sanson B, Alexandre C, Fascetti N, Vincent J-P, (1999), Engrailed and hedgehog make the range of Wingless asymetric in Drosophila embryos, Cell, 98: 207-216

Greaves S, Sanson B, White P, Vincent J-P, (1999), A screen to identify genes interacting with armadillo, the Drosophila homologue of Beta-Catenin, Genetics, 153: 1753-1766

Sanson B, White P, Vincent, J-P, (1996), Uncoupling Cadherin-based adhesion from wingless signaling in Drosophila, Nature, 383: 627-630

Lawrence PA, Sanson B, Vincent J-P, (1996), Compartments, wingless and engrailed: patterning the ventral epidermis of Drosophila embryos, Development, 122: 4095-4103

Above: Research group. From left to right, Claire Lye (with daughter Hannah), Jose Urbano, Cédric Finet (back), Rachel Bonnington (front, Part II student), Huw Naylor, Bénédicte Sanson,  Tara Finegan, Rob Tetley.

Above: Time-lapse movie showing a parasegmental boundary in a MRLC-GFP embryo, with the MyoII cable coloured artificially in green. Dividing boundary cells (stars) deform the MyoII cable (arrows) and transiently invade the opposite compartment. After division, the daughter cells always go back to their compartment of origin and the boundary straightens out (Movie S2 from Monier et al, 2010, Nature Cell Biology, vol 12: 60-5)


Above: Live Drosophila embryo filmed during gastrulation, with the apical cell membranes labelled with Green Fluorescent Protein and automatically tracked through time. In this movie frame, the multicoloured tracks represent the trajectory of the centre of each cell over the previous four minutes (2010 Drosophila Image Award)