Building the DREZ
The dorsal root entry zone is where sensory axons from the dorsal root ganglia enter the spinal cord and is essential to relay sensory information from the extremities to the brain and spinal cord. Unfortunately, we lack knowledge of how the DRG sensory axons navigate to the DREZ, cross into the spinal cord and then connect with central circuits. Using zebrafish time-lapse imaging and mouse genetics, we have the unique ability to watch these processes occur and then test potential molecular pathways that may be essential. With this approach we have begun to uncover the cellular and molecular mechanisms that pattern this important information relay area of the nervous system.
Following a traumatic injury, nerves responsible for motor function and sensory sensation can be severed resulting in a paralyzed state. The recovery of both motor and sensory function requires that the nerves within these systems regenerate. However, these nerves can have different capacities to regenerate which can result in partial recovery of motor function but not sensory sensation. We are investigating these differences with the goal of understanding how regeneration can be improved in the clinic.
The precise wiring of the nervous system ensures animals can interact and respond to their environment. These behavioral circuits can be rooted in the stages of development when neurons are pathfinding through the nervous system and building synaptic connections with their precise neuronal partners. However, in a crowded space like the spinal cord and the brain, the ability for neurons to specifically connect to “correct” neurons while simultaneously avoid or eliminate “incorrect” neurons is an impressive feat. We are interested in understanding the role of glial cells in coordinating these connections.
During the development of the nervous system, glial and neuronal cell populations coordinate their maturation to generate functional circuits that are essential for everyday life. These cell populations are organized into precise niches/domains. Despite the propensity of the disruption of these domains in neurological disorders we lack an understanding of how these domains are established, their role in circuit development and function and their potential manifestation in neurological disorders. We are investigating glial organization with the goal of gaining insight into these specific questions.
We utilize in vivo imaging techniques to dissect developmental and regenerative processes. In collaboration with Engineers here at Notre Dame, we are continuously applying new imaging techniques to improve both the spatial and temporal resolutions of our imaging. With these new imaging techniques we can dissect questions that were previously unapproachable. Our new DeSOS technique can be downloaded here .