The human brain is composed of complex networks of interconnected neurons. Determining the principles that drive assembly of neural network is a high priority goal in the field of neuroscience and important for understanding the etiology of conditions such as Autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome.
Nerual network assembly requires coordination of a complex set of cellular events. In particular, cell-cell contacts play pivotal roles in precisely positioning axons, dendrites and synapses at appropriate targets. An example is given by our recent work that revealed the mechanisms underlying the specification of dendritic outgrowth in Drosophila. We have discovered that the guidance cue comes from inter-neural contact, and that the communication is mediated by Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule (Dscam) proteins.
Our long-term objective is to understand how cellular communication translates into neural morphogenesis. We are currently focusing on studying the functions of Dscam inter-neural contact in neural morphogenesis. We are also developing imaging toolkits for the systematic study of contact-dependent signaling pathways, including a Drosophila collection of fluorescent tagged adhesion molecules to map to specific neuronal processes as well as a contact-dependent expression system to identify partner cells.
Neuroscience; the molecular and cellular mechanisms of neural circuit assembly
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