As evidenced by these research descriptions, the department has a strong focus on development that ranges from studies of differentiation of single cells, to pattern formation in the embryo, to development of neural connectivity and functional brain circuits. Moreover the four research groups are using a number of the same techniques including molecular genetics, high resolution microscopic imaging and fluorescent labeling technology. This overlap of research interests and techniques has led to a highly interactive and collaborative environment.
Developmental Biology Group (Boekhoff-Falk, Dent, Downs, Fallon, Gomez, Griep, Grinblat, Halloran, Kalil, Lee, Lyons, Schultz, White)
The developmental biology group is studying the molecular control of pattern formation during embryonic development. Using the mouse, Drosophila, chick, nematode, and Zebrafish as model systems, we seek to understand how transcription factors control signaling pathways that regulate organ development. An important component of these studies is to relate the information learned on systems such as lens, limb, feather/scale, neural crest, placenta, mesoderm differentiation, and cardiac and skeletal muscle to their evolution.
Imaging Group (Boekhoff-Falk, Dent, Gomez, Halloran, Kalil, White)
A second focus of research involves the development and use of fluorescence imaging technologies and cell labeling techniques to study intact living preparations or whole embryos during development. Faculty in this group develop and apply live cell fluorescence techniques such as single- and multi-photon microscopy, spectral imaging, lifetime imaging and 4D microscopy. In addition to instrumentation, members of this group are also involved in the design of novel fluorescent probes and caged-compounds that allow detailed examination and manipulation of protein dynamics and physiological functions. The overall goals of this group are to apply novel imaging and fluorescent probe technologies to better understand early developmental events as diverse as cytokinesis, pattern formation and axon guidance. This imaging group works in collaboration with scientists in other departments who are members of the biophotonics cluster.
Stem Cell Biology Group (Lyons, Svendsen, Thomson, Zhang)
A third focal point of interest involves the study of stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are immortal in culture and are the building blocks for all different types of tissue. Neural stem cells can be derived from brain tissue later in development and expanded in culture, while retaining the ability to produce neurons and glia. In particular, the different labs are focusing on (1) signals which are important for maintaining these stem cells an undifferentiated state and (2) genetic and epigeneitic factors involved with their differentiation into specific tissues or neural sub types. These cells are then being used to either deliver proteins to the damaged brain, or replace neurons lost in animal models of disease.
Systems Neuroscience Group (Haberly, Harting, Populin, Royce, Smith, Uhlrich)
The systems neuroscience group is addressing the organization and development of neural circuits to understand the function of the nervous system at a variety of levels, from single cells to networks, that mediate complex behaviors such as vision, audition, olfaction, somatosensation, and motor responses.