Personal profile

Biography

2016-present
MRC Career Development Fellow

Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, UK

2008-2015
Senior Research Associate

School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, UK

2004-2008
PhD

University of Sheffield, UK

Overview

Work in our lab focuses on understanding the cell biology of neuronal differentiation during development. We use the embryonic spinal cord as our model system and utilise cutting-edge live tissue imaging techniques to image cell behaviour leading to neuronal differentiation in this tissue. The overall aim of our work is to understand how the complicated molecular changes taking place during neurogenesis are translated into the striking cell behaviour that physically drives this process, with the longer term goal of devising strategies to prevent or relieve the symptoms of neurodevelopmental diseases and dementia.

Research interests

The cell biology of neuronal differentiation

What we do

The overall aim of the lab is to understand the complicated cell biological behaviour that directs the intricate process of neuronal differentiation during embryonic  development. To do this we use the developing vertebrate spinal cord as our major model system. This model facilitates the use of cutting-edge live-tissue imaging techniques, allowing us to image cells differentiating into neurons in the context of a developing tissue, at very high temporal and spatial resolution in real time. This approach also allows us to manipulate the function of proteins and organelles during neurogenesis in this tissue. This approach ultimately leads to comprehensive videos of the cell behaviour leading to neuronal differentiation and maturation, representing an invaluable resource for understanding this crucial process.

Why is it important?

Neuronal differentiation is a fundamental process during embryonic development and errors in this process can lead to a number of neurodevelopmental disorders. Understanding the cell biology of this process will lead to the possibility of manipulating and/or stimulating it to treat these disorders. In addition, diseases that occur later on in adulthood, such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease, have been recently linked to defects in adult neurogenesis, a process that is likely to share many similarities with embryonic neurogenesis. So understanding how cells undergo neuronal differentiation in the embryo also has key implications for adult health and disease.

Current projects

Apical polarity is a hallmark of epithelial cells, including neuroepithelial cells. We have recently discovered that cells differentiating into neurons in the developing vertebrate spinal cord undergo an acute loss of apical polarity during delamination from the neuroepithelium through the regulated process of apical abscission. This is a potentially hazardous cell state, requiring tight control, as the neuron must now rapidly re-establish its polarity. This repolarisation is crucial, as it determines the position of axon outgrowth, an important step in establishment of normal tissue architecture and formation of functional neural circuitry. We are now developing several projects to investigate the roles played by polarity inducing factors and key organelles during this process. We are currently focusing on three key questions:

 

·      What is the role of the centrosome during neuron repolarisation and axon extension?

·      What is the role of the primary cilium during neuron repolarisation?

·      What are the molecular events specifying early neuron asymmetry?

Inquiries from interested postdocs and PhD students are always welcome.

 

 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities

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