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Understanding Cerebellar Development and Disease

Our research focus is the cerebellum. © © Scientific American
Our research focus is the cerebellum.

Welcome to the Becker Group!

We are interested in discovering the genes and biological mechanisms that regulate the development of the cerebellum and in exploring how the impairment of these mechanisms leads to cerebellar diseases.

The cerebellum is well-known as the primary centre of motor coordination and learning in the central nervous system. However, increasing evidence suggests a much wider function for the "little brain", including in higher cognitive functions such as language, emotion and social reward processing. We understand surprisingly little about the molecular processes that underlie the formation of the cerebellum and that, when disrupted, lead to disease. The goal of our research is to provide fundamental insights into the genetic, molecular and cellular mechanisms that govern the development and different diseases of the cerebellum.

We have recently identified the first dominant gene mutations in Spinocerebellar Ataxia type 41 (SCA41) and Spinocerebellar Ataxia type 44 (SCA44), and our ongoing work focuses on elucidating the role of mGluR1-TRPC3 signaling in cerebellar ataxia.

Interestingly, the cerebellum has emerged as one of the key brain areas affected in autism spectrum disorder. However, the molecular mechanisms linking cerebellar function to autism remain largely unknown. We are addressing this important question by investigating the role of autism genes in the development and function of the cerebellum by integrating experimental developmental neurobiology and computational analyses.  Our recent work has shown that a subset of autism genes is highly enriched in developing Purkinje cells.

Our group is one of the few laboratories worldwide who have developed a robust protocol to generate cerebellar neurons and organoids from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).  This exciting technology allows us, for the first time, to study the development and function of human cerebellar neurons in the dish using available cells from healthy people as well as patients with cerebellar disorders. 

Together, our work provides a more rigorous understanding of the genes and pathways behind these diseases. We hope that our findings will ultimately help to inspire improved clinical treatments.

Our team

Recent Publications

Related research themes