Skip to Main Content
CWRU Links

Genetics Faculty

Helen Salz
Ph.D. Training Faculty
Department of Genetics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University
Biomedical Research Building 626
2109 Adelbert Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44106-4955
Tel: (216) 368-2879
Fax: (216) 368-3432

About Helen Salz

Helen Salz is a classically trained geneticist with specific expertise in Drosophila sex determination and germ cell biology. The experimental approaches used in the Salz lab are broad, bringing together advanced genomic, molecular and genetic technologies. Dr. Salz is a member of two editorial boards and has served on advisory boards for professional societies and grant review panels for the American Cancer Society, National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.


We are currently focused on understanding how germ cells choose to differentiate either as eggs or sperm. In most sexually reproducing animals, the cells that will become germ cells are set-aside during embryogenesis. Germ cells then migrate to the developing gonad, which will form ovaries in females and testes in males. There, germ cells will ultimately differentiate into sperm or eggs. Whether germ cells succeed in making eggs or sperm depends on a number of factors, including preservation of sexual identity. In humans, defects in sex-specific programming interferes with germ cell development, leading to infertility and germ cell tumors. Although rare, germ cell tumors are the most frequent cause of cancer in young men and represent the majority of ovarian malignancies in young women. Despite its importance to human health and reproduction, how germ cell sexual identity is secured is poorly understood. We are studying this important cell fate decision in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Our work shows that in flies, as in humans, defects in sex-specific programming leads to germ cell tumors. Our fly model recapitulates several important aspects of germ cell tumors in both men and women. These striking similarities suggest that the information gained from our studies in the fly will impact our understanding of how human germ cells maintain their sexual identity, and why errors in this process leads to infertility and germ cell tumors.

Selected Publications

The H3K9 methyltransferase SETDB1 maintains female identity in Drosophila germ cells.
Smolko AE, Shapiro-Kulnane L, Salz HK
Nat Commun (2018);9(1):4155
See PubMed abstract

Germ cell tumors: Insights from the Drosophila ovary and the mouse testis.
Salz HK, Dawson EP, Heaney JD
Mol Reprod Dev (2017);84(3):200-211
See PubMed abstract

Maintenance of Drosophila germline stem cell sexual identity in oogenesis and tumorigenesis.
Shapiro-Kulnane L, Smolko AE, Salz HK
Development (2015);142(6):1073-82
See PubMed abstract

Sex, stem cells and tumors in the Drosophila ovary.
Salz HK
Fly (Austin) (2012);7(1):
See PubMed abstract

Sex-lethal enables germline stem cell differentiation by down-regulating Nanos protein levels during Drosophila oogenesis.
Chau J, Kulnane LS, Salz HK
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A (2012);:
See PubMed abstract

Sex determination in insects: a binary decision based on alternative splicing.
Salz HK
Curr Opin Genet Dev (2011);21(4):395-400
See PubMed abstract

PPS, a Large Multidomain Protein, Functions with Sex-Lethal to Regulate Alternative Splicing in Drosophila.
Johnson ML, Nagengast AA, Salz HK
PLoS Genet (2010);6(3):e1000872
See PubMed abstract

Sex determination in Drosophila: The view from the top.
Salz HK, Erickson JW
Fly (Austin) (2010);4(1):
See PubMed abstract

Sex-lethal facilitates the transition from germline stem cell to committed daughter cell in the Drosophila ovary.
Chau J, Kulnane LS, Salz HK
Genetics (2009);182(1):121-32
See PubMed abstract

Functioning of the Drosophila Wilms'-Tumor-1-Associated Protein Homolog, Fl(2)d, in Sex-Lethal-Dependent Alternative Splicing.
Penn JK, Graham P, Deshpande G, Calhoun G, Chaouki AS, Salz HK, Schedl P
Genetics (2008);178(2):737-48
See PubMed abstract

Male or female? The answer depends on when you ask.
Salz HK
PLoS Biol (2007);5(12):e335
See PubMed abstract

A Drosophila melanogaster model of spinal muscular atrophy reveals a function for SMN in striated muscle.
Rajendra TK, Gonsalvez GB, Walker MP, Shpargel KB, Salz HK, Matera AG
J Cell Biol (2007);176(6):831-41
See PubMed abstract

Drosophila SPF45: A Bifunctional Protein with Roles in Both Splicing and DNA Repair
Chaouki AS, Salz HK
PLoS Genet (2006);2(12):e178
See PubMed abstract

The Drosophila U1-70K protein is required for viability, but its arginine-rich domain is dispensable
Salz HK, Mancebo RS, Nagengast AA, Speck O, Psotka M, Mount SM
Genetics (2004);168(4):2059-65
See PubMed abstract

Sex-lethal splicing autoregulation in vivo: interactions between SEX-LETHAL, the U1 snRNP and U2AF underlie male exon skipping.
Nagengast AA, Stitzinger SM, Tseng CH, Mount SM, Salz HK.
Development. (2003);130(3):463-71
See PubMed abstract

The Drosophila U2 snRNP protein U2A' has an essential function that is SNF/U2B" independent.
Nagengast AA, Salz HK.
Nucleic Acids Res. (2001);29(18):3841-7
See PubMed abstract

Pre-messenger RNA processing factors in the Drosophila genome.
Mount SM, Salz HK.
J Cell Biol. (2000);150(2):F37-44
See PubMed abstract

Functional analysis of SNF, the Drosophila U1A/U2B" homolog: identification of dispensable and indispensable motifs for both snRNP assembly and function in vivo.
Stitzinger SM, Conrad TR, Zachlin AM, Salz HK.
RNA. (1999);5(11):1440-50.
See PubMed abstract