The main focus of the laboratory is to understand the molecular mechanisms that generate the astounding diversity of cell types in a nervous system. Using theC.elegans model system, we have revealed a core regulatory logic for how terminal neuronal identity is controlled in several different neuron types [1-6]. We have demonstrated that these regulatory mechanisms are conserved in chordates [4, 5]. These insights have allowed us to reprogram the identity of heterologous cell types to that of specific neuron types [7, 8]. Venturing into a little explored area of neuronal diversification, we have developed a novel paradigm to study asymmetry across the left/right axis [9, 10], by far the least understood axis in any nervous system, and identified a complex gene regulatory network that differentially controls terminal neuron identity across this axis [11-24].
Aside from our main focus on neuronal development, we have also studied the molecular machinery with which the nervous system responds to the environment (i) to modulate behavior [10, 25-27] and (ii) to ensure that it maintains its functional and structural integrity [28-31].
Employing new technologies that we developed [32-35], we will continue to exploit the simplicity and experimental amenability of the worm to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the genetic programs that control the development of theC.elegans nervous system and we will continue to extend these insights to vertebrates.