CELL SIGNALING DURING DEVELOPMENT
Cell signaling during the development of the nervous system
During development, new neurons and glial cells are born from neural stem cells in different regions of the nervous system. While boundaries are actively established to maintain the identity of distinct brain compartments, some cells migrate to find their appropriate position, and neurons extend long cellular processes that will become axons and dendrites. All these co-occurring processes have to be coordinated to obtain a functional nervous system in the mature animal. We are studying how signaling pathways help to organize the behavior of these distinct cell populations during the assembly of the nervous system. We are currently investigating the role of the Slit-Robo signaling pathway in several aspects of nervous system development.
AXON GUIDANCE GENES
Study the function of axon guidance genes in the adult brain
Axon guidance molecules control several cellular pathways involved in morphological changes and cell migration during development. However, many of these proteins are also found in the adult organism. Since any developmental manipulation precludes the characterization of adult-specific functions, this aspect has been very hard to address. In the fly, we can tackle this question with tools that allow a precise space and time control of gene expression manipulation. Also, mature neurons have to maintain their expression programs and morphology, among other features actively, but these aspects are poorly understood.
Drosophila as a model to identify new drugs with medical application
Drug discovery for medical purposes is a complex process that usually starts with preclinical studies in cell lines and then in mammals, which cost millions of dollars. After having 1000 candidate drugs for beginning the process, from which a substantial amount will go through the initial screen in cell lines, only a few will be promising in animal studies (usually mice). One of the main problems is that many compounds will be active in cell based-assays but will show deficient in whole animal studies, which are very expensive and time-consuming. Because of these drawbacks, is why we propose to use Drosophila as an intermediate step that can help us to determine if drugs can work in an organism, previous to essays in mammals. We hope that this step will give us information about bioavailability, toxicity, and other parameters.