Developmental Genetics

Mechanisms controling the generation of cell diversity in the vertebrate nervous system

Stem cells in the brain generate an amazingly diverse array of neurons and glial cells during embryonic development. Our unit is studying vertebrate nervous system development, focusing on the molecular mechanisms that control the transition from neural stem cell to neurons. We focus on some transcription factors to probe the molecular mechanisms controling neural progenitor maintenance, differentiation, and the generation of neuronal diversity. Gaining insight into the mechanisms driving the differentiation of neural stem cells into specific types of neurons will help to understand neurological disorders and to devise strategies to replace lost cells in diseased brain.

We use for our work the Xenopus embryo, which offers many advantages for in vivo gene function analysis during early embryonic development. Functional assays in Xenopus are complemented by gain- and loss-of-function by electroporation in chicken embryos and genetic knockouts in the mouse, to gain fuller understanding of gene action and their normal requirements in the developing embryo.