Systems biology of neural tissue differentiation
Head of the Group
Dr. Robert Patrick Zinzen
The cells that make up a complex organism like you can be traced back to a single progenitor – the fertilized egg.
– the earliest steps
Over the course of development, however, cells specify and differentiate in a highly regulated manner, so that a complex organism composed of multiple tissues can arise. While individual cell types, such as neurons, epithelial cells, muscle cells, etc. are clearly different from one another, even what we consider to be coherent "tissues", such as the liver, smooth or striated muscle, or the nervous system consist of many distinct cell types. Individual cells differ in terms of size, shape, biochemical properties, and maybe most fundamentally, in terms of their underlying gene expression program.
Our lab wants too understand how cells become different – how do their gene expression programs change over the course of development, and how does this guide and allow for cellular specification and differentiation. Our model to approach this very fundamental question in biology is nervous system development in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.
More than a hundred years of Drosophila research have given crucial insights into some of the key molecules underlying nervous system development, but recent advances allow for a much more systematic, global look at what drives this development. We are employing a systems biology approach to understand nervous system patterning from a genomic and proteomic point of view – we want to understand how key transcription factors regulate gene expression in the developing nervous sytem, how these transcription factors interact with and shape the epigenetic landscape, but also how such transcription factors act and interact on their cognate enhancers mechanistically.