Evolving Bigger Brains – the Cerebellum
How did the brain get so large and complex? Our work focusses on the cerebellum, which is in the hindbrain, and coordinates motor and proprioceptive information, amongst other things – people with cerebellar disorders have trouble keeping their balance and often have very poor gait.
The cerebellum is hugely elaborate and extensively folded in mammals (it contains over half of the neurons in the brain!), but in some vertebrates has no folds at all and consists of a single lobe. We investigate the origins of this elaboration using chicken (which has a very complex cerebellum) and frogs (which don’t).
Sensing the World – Making Sensory Neurons
Sensory neurons enable give us information about the world around us and their elaboration has been central to the evolution of vertebrate animals. Interestingly, they are born from a number of different populations of stem cells: some in the brain, some that start in the brain but leave, and some that are essentially thickened areas of skin. How do these different types of stem cells give rise to similar types of neurons, and why?
We are investigating this question using mice, where we can label stem cell populations and follow their descendants, and chickens, where we can easily obtain an impression of all the genes turned on in these neurons using cutting edge genomic technology.