Dr Elaine Dunleavy

Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry
Deputy Programme Director of BSc in Genetics and Genomics SFI-PIYRA

Research interests

  • Centromeres
  • Epigenetics
  • Meiosis
  • Germline stem cells

Research overview

ED fly

Model system: the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster

Germ cells reside in the reproductive tissues, the testes and ovaries. These cells undergo specialised cell divisions, such as meiosis, to ultimately give rise to gametes (eggs and sperm). Defects in egg and sperm development lead to reduced fertility or sterility. Understanding how cell division is controlled in germ cells is critical, as this information can impact on the diagnosis and treatment of human or animal infertility.



A field of fruit fly spermatocytes in which an ATP synthase subunit is depleted leading to defects in DNA organization, imaged using wide field microscopy (DNA is shown in green).

Four fruit fly egg chambers containing germline stem cells, imaged using high resolution confocal microscopy.










Located on each chromosome within the cell nucleus, the centromere plays a key role in cell division. It is the site where the kinetochore assembles to ensure proper chromosome segregation. Rather than DNA sequence, the histone variant CENP-A specifies centromere identity and function in an epigenetic manner. Compared to somatic cells, CENP-A assembly in germ cells displays unique properties. For example, in spermatocytes undergoing meiosis and germline stem cells undergoing asymmetric divisions, CENP-A is assembled at unique cell cycle times or in unexpected amounts.

A key research question in the laboratory is to understand how CENP-A is targeted to and reproducibly incorporated at centromeres during meiosis. To address this question, we use male meiosis in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model developmental system, combing genetics, cell biology and biochemical approaches. A second major focus of the laboratory is to investigate mechanisms of centromere assembly and maintenance in germ line stem cells and to understand how this might impact on cell fate. We use the germ line stem cell niche in both Drosophila melanogasterfemales and males as model systems, combining genetics with high resolution fixed and live imaging approaches.


To meet our group members, see our group pages

Selected publications

  • Centromere function in asymmetric cell division in Drosophila female and male germline stem cells. Kochendoerfer AM, Modafferi F, Dunleavy EM (2021) Open Biology, Nov; 11(11). PMID: 34727723
  • CENP-C functions in centromere assembly, the maintenance of CENP-A asymmetry and epigenetic age in Drosophila germline stem cells. Carty BL,¬†Dattoli AA, Dunleavy EM (2021) PLoS Genetics, May 20;17(5). PMID: 34014920
  • Carty BL and Dunleavy EM (2020) Centromere assembly and non-random sister chromatid segregation in stem cells. Essays in Biochemistry: Kinetochores and Chromosome Segregation. Essays Biochem. 2020 Sep 4;64(2):223-232.PMID: 32406510
  • Dattoli AA, Carty BL, Kochendoerfer AM, Morgan C, Walshe AE, Dunleavy EM (2020) Asymmetric assembly of centromeres epigenetically regulates cell fate. Journal of Cell Biology, Apr 6;219(4). PMID: 32328637
  • Mills WK, Lee YC, Kochendoerfer AM, Dunleavy EM, Karpen GH (2019) RNA from a simple tandem repeat is required for male fertility and histone-protamine exchange in Drosophila melanogaster.¬† Nov 5;8 doi: 10.7554/eLife.48940. PMID: 31687931
  • Collins CM, Malacrida B, Burke C, Kiely PA and Dunleavy EM (2018) ATP synthase F1 subunits -? and -?like recruited to centromeres by CENP-A are required for male meiosis. Nature Communications. 13;9(1):2702. PMID: 30006572
  • Collins CM, Dunleavy EM (2018) Imaging and quantitation of assembly dynamics of the centromeric histone H3 variant CENP-A in Drosophila melanogaster spermatocytes by immunofluorescence and fluorescence in-situ hybridisation (Immuno-FISH). Methods Mol Biol; 1832:327-337. PMID: 30073536
  • Dunleavy EM, Collins CM (2017) Centromere dynamics in male and female germlines. Prog Mol Subcell Biol; 56:357-375. PMID: 28840245
  • Kwenda L, Collins CM, Dattoli AA and Dunleavy EM (2016) Nucleolar activity and CENP-C regulate CENP-A and CAL1 availability for centromere assembly in meiosis. Development. 143(8):1400-12. PMID: 27095496
  • Dunleavy EM, Zhang W, Karpen, GH (2013) Solo or Doppio: How many CENP-As make a centromeric nucleosome? Nat Struct Mol Biol, 20(6): 648-50. PMID: 23739165
  • Dunleavy EM, Beier NL, Gorgescu W, Tang J, Costes SV, Karpen GH (2012) The cell cycle timing of centromeric chromatin assembly in Drosophila meiosis is distinct from mitosis yet requires CAL1 and CENP-C. PLoS Biol, 10(12): e1001460. PMID: 23300382