Research of Developmental Neurobiology
By Dr.Vanberkum's Lab
The left side of your brain talks to the right side of your body (and vice versa). We are determining how a neuron born on the left can project its axon across the midline to connect with its target cell on the right. This is actually a complex decision-making process.
The extending axon must simultaneously detect both attractive and repulsive cues and convert them into signals regulating axon extension and steering. Our model is the ladder-like nerve cord of a Drosophila embryo that forms as most neurons are attracted across the midline. Initially, these neurons ignore midline repulsive cues but once across the midline, they use the repulsive cue to prevent them from re-crossing. We use a combination of genetic, cellular and molecular techniques to understand how outgrowing axons respond to these cues during a decision to cross the midline.
Our genetic analysis helps us identify the genes that are important for guidance across the midline of a developing embryo. Our cell culture techniques help us study how these genes affect the basic properties of axon outgrowth, while a series of biochemical and molecular techniques are used to begin elucidating the molecular mechanisms by which these genes help interpret midline attractive and repulsive cues.
Together, these techniques help us build a comprehensive model of how neurons are able to project axons across the midline and establish functional connectivity. Because this process is highly conserved, out research directly impacts our understanding of the development of a human spinal cord and/or the emergence of spinal cord defects.
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