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How do newly born neurons know where to make functional connections to wire up the brain?
To characterize the molecular and cellular components necessary for proper commissure formation in the forebrain.
The most common example of commissures in humans is the optic chiasm or corpus callosum, which are both vitally important for coordination and sensory processing between the two sides of the brain. Zebrafish also have an optic chiasm and similar brain commissures, but also provide a tractable and simple system to get at the molecular mechanisms controlling this process. We are taking two different approaches to understand the role that axon-glial interactions play during commissure formation in the brain.
1) We wish to define the types of astroglia cells that interact with neurons as they attempt to send a long process across the brain’s imaginary midline to form a commissure. We are developing transgenic tools to directly test whether these astroglial cells are required for commissure formation, as well as to watch in the live embryo how these astroglial cells interact with commissural neurons.
2) We are also testing whether the Slit-Roundabout protein signaling system is required for neuron-glial interactions during commissure formation.
This work addresses some important basic questions about brain development, but also has direct implications to our understanding of neural regeneration that is critical for better treatment strategies for degenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. This project is currently funded under NIH.