Associate Profeesor of Biological Sciences
Postdoctoral Research in Cellular Neurobiology, Yale University, 1995-2000
Ph.D. in Biochemistry, University of Zurich, 1995
Understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms of cell migration is a major goal in modern biology. Cell movements play a critical role during development, adult life and in various diseases. Important examples include the growing tip of a nerve cell process, the neuronal growth cone, and the invasive behavior of cancer cells. Our laboratory is currently focusing on the mechanisms of neuronal growth cone motility and guidance. Using the large growth cones of cultured Aplysia neurons as a model system, we investigate how the growth cone integrates its sensor, signaling and motility functions to achieve directional movements towards target cells and establish functional connections. Specifically, we would like to understand how extracellular signals, such as from cell adhesion molecules, are transduced inside the cell to affect the underlying cytoskeleton. These changes ultimately determine speed and direction of growth cone movement. Our current studies aim at the understanding of the functions of Src tyrosine kinases as well as of the cytoskeletal dynamics in adhesion-mediated growth cone steering. More recently we are also investigating the role of reactive oxygen species in growth cone motility and guidance. We use a combination of advanced live cell imaging, cell biological, biophysical, molecular and biochemical techniques to investigate the dynamics and function of adhesion, signaling, and cytoskeletal proteins, and to analyze forces involved in cell migration. We hope that our research will not only improve our understanding of the basic cell biology of neuronal growth cones, but also assist in the development of treatments that support axonal regeneration in nervous system diseases and injuries.