What drives the anterior expansion of the mammalian central nervous system?

A striking feature of the central nervous system (CNS) pertains to the anterior expansion of the brain relative to the nerve cord. This feature is evolutionarily conserved from annelids to humans. Brain expansion becomes increasingly pronounced during evolution and reaches its zenith in mammals, as visualized by the large cortex. The evolutionary expansion of the brain has been instrumental for the higher cognitive functions associated with primates, including humans. However, there are major knowledge gaps in our understanding of the genetic and cellular underpinnings driving anterior CNS expansion. This project investigates the genetic forces that have driven the evolution and expansion of the brain, and will impact our views on the origin of the large human brain.

Decoding cell specification in the developing mammalian hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is a small brain structure that acts as a master homeostatic regulator, controlling energy and fluid balance, thermoregulation, sleep-wake states, stress responses, growth and reproduction, as well as emotional and social behaviours.

The hypothalamus can play this plethora of complex functions because it its staggering neuronal diversity, with hundreds of different neuronal cell types. The importance of this brain structure is further underscored by the large number of disorders aligned to abnormal hypothalamic development. To understand the underlying mechanisms of these developmental disorders we need to define the basic tenets that control hypothalamic development. The aim of these studies is the spatiotemporal decoding of mouse hypothalamic development, including the identification of distinct stem cell types and their lineages, as well as the functional analysis of epigenetic and transcriptional regulators steering these events.