Development of cranial sensory neurons
Work in my lab is aimed at unravelling some of the mysteries underlying the development of different types of neurons within the embryo, which are ultimately connected in a co-ordinated manner to form a functional nervous system. Our focus is on the peripheral nervous system, specifically the sensory nervous system, fundamental to our perception of our body’s environment. Distinct classes of sensory neurons respond to specific types of external and internal sensory stimuli, receiving information about the body’s current state. The sensory neurons convey this information to the CNS for processing so that the body can respond to the stimulus appropriately.
The sensory neurons in the head differ from those in the trunk. The majority of them are generated from neurogenic placodes; specialised regions of neurogenic epithelia distant from the CNS in the surface ectoderm. Ultimately these neurons born in the periphery have to form connections with the CNS. We have found that this process is facilitated by interactions with another cell population, the neural crest cells, which emigrate from the CNS as stereotypical streams. Current research questions include understanding the nature of neural crest/placodal neuron interactions; acquisition of different sensory neuron phenotype; and investigation of cell-autonomous mechanisms governing neurogenesis and migration of cranial sensory neurons.