Research

The human brain consists of an estimated 100 billion neurons that form an extensive network. The assembly of such a complex functional network requires precise spatiotemporal control of neuronal development that allows the appropriate partner neurons to form synapses.
The long-term goal of my lab is to understand patterning mechanisms at the molecular level that allow dendrites and axons to innervate appropriate targets and form functional circuits. Some of the questions we are focusing on are:

How do cell surface receptors shape the receptive field of neurons?

How is the specificity of neuronal connections achieved?

Our main model system is the Drosophila larval peripheral nervous system, which offers a number of advantages to address these questions: all neurons can be unambiguously identified based on their position and morphology, and they feature highly stereotyped axon and dendrite projections. Transgenic lines with fluorescent marker proteins labeling specific subtypes of neurons make them directly accessible to in vivo imaging by confocal microscopy.

We utilize cutting edge techniques like targeted gene knockouts, single cell mosaic labeling, and RNAi to analyze gene function in dendrite and axon patterning in vivo. My lab is also involved in the development and application of new tools that allow simultaneous in vivo imaging of dendrite and axon morphology, synapse specific fluorescent labeling and in vivo tagging of cell-cell contacts.

Soba

Confocal live images of neurons and their dendritic fields in the larval peripheral nervous system. Shown is a class I neuron (green) and class IV neurons (red)
soba

Confocal live images of neurons and their dendritic fields in the larval peripheral nervous system. Shown is a class I neuron (green) and class IV neurons (red)