Graduate Training in Neuroscience
University of Washington
Cecilia B. Moens
Member, Division of Basic Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center;
Affiliate Professor, Departments of Biology and Biological Structure, University of Washington
How do genes function to subdivide the developing brain early in embryogenesis so that it can give rise to the functionally complex adult structure? In many animal phyla, regional complexity is achieved through a process of segmentation and segment specification - whereby an initially homogeneous field of cells is subdivided into a series of similar units, each of which acquires a distinct identity and funtion. This is the case in the vertebrate hindbrain, which early in development is divided into seven rhombomeres with re-iterated patterns of neuronal differentiation, whose segmental organization serves to pattern the architecture and innervation of the head. The correspondence between rhombomere boundaries and boundaries of Hox gene expression lend the hindbrain an archetypal importance as being patterned by mechanisms that are conserved across animal phyla. We are studying the genetic basis of segmentation by identifying mutants in the zebrafish in which the normal segmental patterns of gene expression and neuronal differentiation are disrupted. By using a combination of experimental embryology, genetics, and molecular biology we seek to understand where and when these genes function and by what molecular mechanisms.