Our goal is to understand the mechanisms that underlie the development of neural circuits and the emergence of coordinated function. We use the embryonic nervous system of Drosophila as a model, focussing on the development of the motor network that generates the simple crawling movements of the Drosophila larva.
Drosophila has been extremely influential for our understanding of mechanisms of neurogenesis and axon guidance, which have been highly conserved from flies to humans. Drosophila brings three crucial strengths to this kind of analysis. The first is that we can work with identified neurons to which we can return again and again, as they develop and in experiments. The second is that by using targeted genetic constructs we can access specific cells in the developing network for experimentation and analysis (Diegelmann 2008). This is particularly important in the context of emerging function because it gives us an unparalleled ability to manipulate the excitability and synaptic connections of individual cells or cell classes. The third point is that we can use genetic methods to identify the molecular mechanisms that regulate structure, excitability and connectivity in the final stages of circuit assembly.
More recently, in collaboration with Sean Sweeney at the University of York, we have begun exploring how oxidative stress, a hallmark of a ageing and neurodegenerative conditions, affects synaptic terminal growth.