The mature CNS is very complex - containing many cell types making myriads of connections. To build such a complex structure seems daunting and yet the CNS forms efficiently during development of almost every vertebrate embryo. As developmental neurobiologists, we take advantage of early embryos to better understand CNS formation. We are particularly interested in understanding the genetic and epigenetic control of this process. To this end, we use biochemistry, cell biology, classical genetics and molecular genomics to study neural development in the zebrafish – a simple vertebrate with a CNS structure similar to that of humans.
Our current research focuses on identifying the genes controlling formation of the hindbrain, which serves as a powerful model for CNS development in general. The hindbrain is an embryonic structure that gives rise to cerebellum and brainstem in the adult and defective hindbrain development can cause disorders such as autism. We are using ChIP-seq and RNA-seq to identify the gene regulatory network controlling hindbrain development. We then use CRISPR/Cas9 to mutate key genes in the network and assess their role in hindbrain development. Lastly, biochemical and cell biological methods are used to define the mechanism whereby these genes act in hindbrain development.