Patricia Estes

Research Associate Professor


Development of the Drosophila Central Nervous System

Research Interests 


We study how the central nervous system (CNS) is constructed during embryonic development. To do this, we analyze which genes and gene networks are active in specific neural and glial cell types using the model organism, Drosophila melanogaster. We focus on a simple CNS cell lineage, the midline, because it consists of a small number of cell types that are easy to identify and follow during development.
Using computational, comparative and experimental methods, we identify and dissect regions of the genome and molecular mechanisms that control CNS midline cell development. The 12 sequenced Drosophila genomes are utilized to study gene regulation and identify cis-regulatory regions of midline genes. These regions are then studied to identify transcription factors and signaling pathways that regulate gene expression within the CNS midline throughout the lifetime of the fly.

Many mechanisms used during CNS midline cell development are shared with other cell types, while some are unique to the nervous system; and our goal is to identify and understand both. This information may shed light on more complex systems, including the mammalian CNS and by understanding how neurons normally develop, the studies may indicate how new neurons and glia can be restored after injury.

Courses Taught


GN434 Genes and Development

I teach a GN434 Genes and Development each spring. During the course, we discuss genes and genetic pathways that control animal development, the early, pivotal experiments in embryology and genetics and the use of molecular biology, genomics and bioinformatics to study genes and development. During the course, we concentration on four animal systems: worms, flies, frogs and humans.
Each student gives a presentation in which he/she discusses major issues in developmental biology.

The class website can be found at the NC State Moodle site each spring.

Selected Publications


Zhang, Y., Wheatley, R., Fulkerson, E., Tapp, A. and Estes P.A. (2011) Mastermind Mutations Generate a Unique Constellation of Midline Cells within the Drosophila CNS. PLoS ONE 6: e26197.

Fulkerson, E. and Estes, P.A. (2011). Common motifs shared by conserved enhancers of Drosophila midline glial genes. JEZ Part B 316B, 61-75.

Estes, P.A., Fulkerson, E. and Zhang, Y. (2008). Identification of conserved motifs that regulate midline glia versus neuron expression in twelve Drosophila species. Genetics 178, 787-799.

Kearney, J., Wheeler, S., Estes, P., Parente, B. and Crews, S. (2004). Gene expression profiling of the developing Drosophila CNS midline cells. Dev. Biol. 275, 473-492.

Sugimura, K., Satoh, D., Estes, P., Crews, S., and Uemura, T. (2004). Development of morphological diversity of dendrites in Drosophila by the BTB-Zinc finger protein abrupt. Neuron. 43, 809-822. [pdf file]

Estes, P.A., Mosher, J., and Crews, S.T. (2001). Drosophila single-minded represses gene transcription by activating expression of repressive factors. Dev. Biol. 232, 157-175.

Yang, D., Lu, H., Hong, Y., Jinks, T.M., Estes, P.A. and Erickson, J.W. (2001). Interpretation of X chromosome dose at Sex-lethal requires non-E-box sites for the basic helix-loop-helix proteins SISB and daughterless. Mol. Cell. Biol. 21, 1581-1592.

Emmons, R., Duncan, D., Estes, P.A., Mosher, J., Sonnenfeld, M., Ward, M., Duncan, I., and Crews, S.T. (1999). The Drosophila Spineless-Aristapedia and Tango bHLH-PAS proteins interact to control antennal and tarsal development. Development 126, 3937-3945.

Estes, P.A., Keyes, L.N., and Schedl, P. (1995). Multiple response elements within the Sex-lethal early promoter ensure its female-specific expression pattern. Mol. Cell. Biol. 15, 904-917.

Estes, P.A., Cooke, N.E., and Liebhaber, S.A. (1992). A native RNA secondary structure controls alternative splice-site selection and generates two human growth hormone isoforms. J. Biol. Chem. 267, 14902-14908.

Nishikura, K., Yoo, C., Kim, U., Munroe, S.H., Estes, P.A., Cash, F.E., and Liebhaber, S.A. (1991). Substrate specificity of the dsRNA unwinding/modifying activity. EMBO 10, 3523-3532.

Cooke, N.E., Emery, J.G., Ray, J., Urbanek, M., Estes, P.A., and Liebhaber, S.A. (1991). Placental expression of the human growth hormone-variant gene. Trophoblast Research 5, 61-74.

Estes, P.A., Cooke, N.E., and Liebhaber, S.A. (1990). A difference in the splicing patterns of the closely related normal and variant human growth hormone gene transcripts is determined by a minimal sequence divergence between two potential splice-acceptor sites. J. Biol. Chem. 265, 19863-19870.

Cooke, N.E., Ray, J., Watson, M.A., Estes, P.A., Kuo, B.A., and Liebhaber, S.A. (1988). Human growth hormone gene and the highly homologous growth hormone variant gene display different splicing patterns. J. Clin. Invest. 82, 270-275.


Patricia Estes