Jill C. Wildonger
Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry
Ph.D. Columbia University
Role of the microtubule cytoskeleton in creating and maintaining neuronal polarity during development
Neurons are functionally and structurally polarized, with distinct cellular projections that are specialized to receive and send signals (dendrites and axons, respectively). Axons and dendrites are essential for transmitting signals within a circuit, yet the molecular mechanisms that create these distinct neuronal structures have remained elusive. Our lab is addressing how neuronal polarity is created and maintained by focusing on the microtubule cytoskeleton, which has a dual function within cells: microtubules provide morphological structure and also serve as the major “highway” for the transport of proteins and organelles that are integral to neuronal function. We are characterizing the interplay between microtubules and the molecular motors dynein and kinesin, which transport cargo along microtubules to specific locations within neurons. By combining genetic, molecular, live-cell imaging and biochemical approaches, our goal is to delineate microtubule-based mechanisms implicated in neuronal polarity, using the developing fruit fly as a model. Indicative of the importance of the microtubule cytoskeleton in neuronal development, multiple human neurodevelopmental disorders, including classic lissencephaly, are linked to microtubule defects. One of our central goals is to identify the molecular and cellular causes of human disorders, such as classical lissencephaly, and determine how changes in the microtubule cytoskeleton impact neuronal structure and function.
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