Vassilis Pachnis group

Development of the nervous system

The nervous system mediates the interaction of organisms with their environment, contributes to the maintenance of internal homeostasis and is the anatomical substrate of cognitive activity. Normal function of the nervous system depends on the generation, at the right time and place, of integrated cellular networks made up of a large number of diverse neurons. Understanding the mechanisms that control the generation of distinct neuronal subtypes and their migration to the appropriate location is critical for comprehending normal neuronal development and for treating neuronal deficiencies.

Our studies explore the mechanisms that control the development of the enteric nervous system of the gut: how enteric neurons and their progenitors migrate during embryogenesis and how they differentiate to form complex networks that regulate gut motility and secretions. We also study the mechanisms that control neuronal differentiation in the forebrain. We have identified signals that mediate cellular interactions, molecules that underlie the functional interconnection of neurons and transcription factors underlying neuronal cell fate decisions. Our studies provide novel insight into the development and function of the nervous system in normal and disease conditions.

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The enteric nervous system of adult mice is made up of thousands of interconnected ganglia similar to the one shown here. Each ganglion contains many different types of neurons (red nuclei) and glial cells (blue cytoplasm.

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