Professor, Dept of Cell Biology and Anatomy
HSC Rm 2207, 3330 Hospital Dr., NW
Calgary, AB T2N 4N1
Our research focuses on how developing neurons form connections with each other to generate neural networks. Using the experimentally amenable Xenopus laevis visual system as a model, we investigate factors that regulate the morphological differentiation of a single neuronal type: the retinal ganglion cell (RGC). RGCs receive input on their dendrites from retinal interneurons and pass this information on to the brain via their axons, which make up the optic nerve. At least with the axons, many of the extrinsic factors that direct growth are known. We now need to understand what controls their expression and function. Optic nerve dysfunction, resulting from RGC death, occurs in a number of childhood disorders, including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, infantile or congenital glaucoma, or those who suffered from diminished oxygen supply to the optic nerve around birth. In adults, dysfunction can result from glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and metabolic disorders such as Type II diabetes. For RGC replacement therapies to yield their hoped for promise, the new cells will have to be integrated back into the relay circuit controlling vision. Understanding the control of the expression and activity of the key extrinsic factors that regulate these events in the embryo will go some way to giving us the blueprint for re-forming these connections in the adult.